Mother Tongue: Matter of Identity or Medium of Instruction

Language is a mark of identity. Language facilitates communication. The new education policy lays greater emphasis on using mother tongue as medium of instruction in schools. This is quite encouraging as mother tongue aided learning can foster better comprehension of concepts and can overcome the malpractice of rote learning that hampers cognitive competence of children. Kashmiri – mother tongue of Kashmiri people has to secure and strengthen its space in our homes first, and then only the introduction of mother tongue as a medium instruction in school curriculum can improve the learning attainments of our young students.

As is envisaged in the policy, students will have text books of science, mathematics, social sciences in their mother tongue. According to NEP 2020, high quality textbooks including in science will be made available in mother tongue/home languages. Endorsing multilingualism offers great cognitive benefits to young students, the policy provisions affirm children will be exposed to different languages early on but with a particular emphasis on mother tongue.

          Medium of instruction acts as an interface between the teacher and the learner for bringing effectiveness in teaching learning process. Both teachers as well as the learners need to have basic proficiency in order to understand and learn concepts and constructs pertaining to the concerned subject. Text books in mother tongue have to be deeply entrenched in local culture and must be comprehensive and convenient for young learners to relate their prior knowledge and understanding with the new concepts and knowledge introduced in the formal curriculum. Curriculum designing in mother tongue has to incorporate subtle sensitivities that are associated with local cultural context.

Preparation of textbooks in mother tongue from preschool to secondary school levels is a challenging task. Concepts and constructs in sciences and social sciences demand professional competence to be explained and expressed in mother tongue for better comprehension of the learner. These professionals need to be well grounded with the local cultural context deciphered in their mother tongue. Based on the principle of equity, the policy has to address and accommodate diverse linguistic landscape while introducing mother tongue as medium of instruction in schools. Linguistic exclusion and language imposition should not undermine any community and deny them the right and privilege to enjoy learning in their own native language.

Advocacy for mother tongue as medium of instruction was a long cherished dream. In everyday life, mother tongue acts as a lifeline; it is indicative of cultural existence. How anchored we are in the world of our own mother tongue? In towns and cities, the craze for other tongue rather than mother tongue does not fit well with the enthusiastic reception of mother tongue as medium of instruction in formal institutions. Informally, indifference towards mother tongue at homes exposes the hidden hypocrisy.

Putting it bluntly, in cities and towns mother tongue is an alien entity. Be it home or public places, children and youth prefer Urdu to communicate with each other. Private schools in general and elite schools in particular encourage young students to strictly use Urdu or English as a matter of  institutional norm. This disguised invasion of other languages encroaches upon the space of mother tongue. Prowess and proficiency of other tongue has institutional recognition and is instrumental in evaluation and assessment of academic achievement of the learner. In such a situation affinity towards the mother tongue is gradually replaced by a growing indifference and dislike.

As an established norm, preschool admissions in private institutions never provide space for interaction in mother tongue. At the very outset, the first introduction of child and parent with institutional administrators for securing admission is necessarily language bound. Such parents show greater adherence to school norms to prefer other tongue. School regulations stretch beyond institutional set up of school and becomes indirect and invisible imposition at home. Compliance on part of parents and students to communicate in other tongue as a new normal leaves no ground for mother tongue to germinate in its own soil.

Pursuit to become the best professional in any field or stream is an appreciative endeavour. Being the best in any art or science is a distinctive achievement. Setting new precedence of record breaking accomplishment that brings name and fame for the individual as well as the community is always a matter of joy and celebration. But at the same time one needs to be well grounded in the cultural identity one belongs to. Mother tongue is the umbilical cord that connects and sustains the relationship between the individual and his identity. Mother tongue shapes the formation of cultural prototypes that truly stand for the actual representation of a particular culture. Emulation of other cultures only ends up at manufacturing pseudo-types that wander like suspended particles without any weight and worth.

Our domestic dealing with the mother tongue is more decisive to determine the cognitive depths of young learners. Children well soaked in mother tongue in early years in informal setting of family learn and grasp meanings embedded in their local context. Mother tongue introduces the child with the world with originality of perception, thought and expression. And as this foundational template gains strength and richness with the passage of time, acquisition of other languages becomes easy to negotiate. This argument is amply substantiated by research findings that mastery of mother tongue is an aid and advantage to learning.

Every individual member irrespective of professional and educational background has to be a true ambassador and representative of the mother tongue. Our homes must nourish and nurture mother tongue with devotion and dignity. The sweetness of expression, an empathetic emotional touch and intimate sense of belongingness to the culture is only experienced and articulated in mother tongue. ‘A‘ for apple – can be crammed and mugged up by any child across the world. But for those cultures where apple acts as a currency in the culture mother tongue will flash and feature varied shapes of apples with different texture and taste along with an encyclopaedia of experiences attached with its utility. Apple introduces them to the actors and their activities involved in extended chain of apple industry. The word thus becomes a world in the mother tongue. This is the beauty of mother tongue that it expands and extends cognition with reflexivity and divergent thinking. It ignites and stimulates creative expressions. It allows the learner to delve deep and develop associations and relationships connecting known with the unknown. Both deductive and inductive reasoning find conducive canvass in mother tongue to flourish.

Let our young generation recognise the beauty of our mother tongue. Let us empower ourselves with richness and resourcefulness of mother tongue. We may communicate in other tongue fluently, but we will never be successful in expressing emotions, assertions imaginations and feelings as powerfully and empathetically like that of our mother tongue. Proficiency in mother tongue reflects linguistic richness.

Incorporation of mother tongue as a medium of instruction is a welcome move. It is time to open our homes and hearts to restore and re-strengthen the space and status of mother tongue. Schools will surely be a new temporary place for mother tongue, but there should be no compromise with its permanent abode – that is our society. It is our collective responsibility to the preserve the supreme importance of mother tongue in our society.