Mirage of Mother Tongue Education

It is a fad today, to pontificate on the wonders of learning in one's own mother tongue. "It is a wonderful thing", they say. "All the developed countries do it", they say. "English is making slaves out of us", they say. 

Yet - they say all of this in English, on a platform called Twitter made mostly by men speaking English, based on computer languages that are predominantly written in English using algorithms that are mostly published in English. Never mind that those who say this, have made a living in India / out of India using their "English" knowledge, and have gone on to monetize on that advantage. Now, they want youngsters in India to forego English and learn everything in their own mother tongue.

What these warriors of mother tongue refuse to accept is India is vastly different from the other countries they mentioned. Let us first burst that myth. Here are the top 10 economies in the world, with their GDPs and population sizes. 

Trillion $ Million Ppl
USA 18 320
China 9.4 1357
Japan 4.9 127
Germany 3.73 80.6
United Kingdom 2.67 64.1
France 2.8 66
India 1.87 1250
Italy 1.8 59.8
Brazil 1.77 200
Canada 1.55 35.16

Together, the top 10 economies contribute to 66% of the global GDP. Four of the top 10 economies (yes, I am including India) use English as at least one of their major languages. For those who say most of India doesn't speak English, I say - more people in India speak English (125M) than that do in United Kingdom. I include Canada in this list because English is one of the two official languages in Canada. That makes it 4 of 10. Further - in terms of GDP: English speaking countries contribute to as much as 49% of the top global GDP. Let that sink in: half the top 10 global GDP (32% of Global GDP) is from these four English speaking countries. If one wants to drop India from the list, the number is still inordinately high: 45% of top 10 countries (30% total Global GDP). GDP numbers say that knowing English is likely to let you participate in, and make a contribution to the top 30% (at least) of the global GDP. With any other language, the chances are much much lower (except of course, Mandarin). Moreover, don't forget the fact that even today, the most cited journals in STEM are all published in English.

The second point to note is the per capita GDP. To simplify this, I have made a subset comparison: France (2.8T USD GDP) to a similarly populated Indian state, Karnataka (130B USD). For similarly populated regions where majority don't speak English, Karnataka has an economy that is 5% the size of France. The size of the economy tells us the number of people that it can absorb. Since we are talking about mother tongue education in higher ed (Graduation), we assume that these jobs will replace the English speaking jobs. Here is the bad news: Karnataka produces far more graduates every year (12L / annum)  than does France (1.09L). How and where are you going to employ all these graduates outside the puny economy of 130B USD?

Third point to note is how each of these countries have a minimum number of languages as their official language. The median here is 1 language. When people compare India to Japan, Germany, Finland, Norway, France, and what not - people don't tell you that all these countries speak one language internally. In case of China - probably the largest PPP based economic power, the total number of official languages is three. Now count the total number of linguistic states in India - and see whether it makes sense! Good luck finding and implementing that link language in India.

Fourth point is about the technicality of education in vernacular languages. Where are my books? Where are my technical resources? Where is my research into precise use of Indian languages in STEM (yes, STEM still allows people to escape poverty)? Where is my corpus of literature? Where are my computers / compilers that can run entirely in Indian languages? Where are my research journals? WE HAVE NOTHING.

Fifth point is the human story behind this "vernacular teaching" mess. I have helplessly looked on while an otherwise reasonable bright kid couldn't articulate his views in English, being fired. He had his entire education in Tamizh. He was working in Bangalore, in a field that *needed* English. This kid's father probably sold their land to put him through college. He can't articulate his PoV because of the fourth point enumerated above. His degree program taught in Tamizh while the terms were directly borrowed from English - forcing the student to memorize English terms in Tamizh without any way for him to understand how and why these terms came into being. This is but one sad story. And by no means, is this an exception. I would rather have kids like him learn English, keep a job and secure their life - than to fall prey for the whimsical compulsions of an already economically successful ideologue.

The Sixth point about this entire misadventure is how it will restrict mobility to parents within India. India is becoming a melting pot, and forcing a vernacular / local language medium of instruction will either force parents to choose a city that is not conducive to their career, or force children to learn in more than one language that is NOT the kid's mother tongue at all. All suggestions to find a linguistic minority school to stick to the Kid's own mother tongue, sound ridiculous given laws like #RTE. The proponents of "vernacular language as medium of instruction" are myopic about the difficulties that parents would face in an increasingly cosmopolitan India.

The Seventh and last point is the nature of economies: India is a socialist economy where large manufacturing facilities are seldom allowed to thrive. All the other countries outlined above are manufacturing powerhouses that are capitalist in nature (if you are arguing China is socialist, well ..). In a services dependent economy like India, restricting one's prospects to their own state by forcing one's vernacular language, is a crime.

None of these problems have been addressed by any of the proponents so far in a manner that is cogent, logical and practical. Unfortunately, people are making the same mistake that Nehru did when he internally vivisected India on linguistic lines - only this time, these are the people who claim to know better than Nehru himself.

People who have had the privilege of English education and associated prosperity, are now advocating something pernicious and ruinous to the future of this country. The road to hell is indeed paved with best intentions.



  1. In the entire blog, one thing is missing. That is critical thinking. The Indian education system does not place much emphasis on critical thinking. Even the IT sector which is computer + English education, barely 10% are qualified for employment; 35% are trainable. The remaining 65% are not even trainable. In the US, I deal with Indian trained or India educated students, professionals and home-makers all the time. Rarely, I meet with someone with higher critical thinking. Most are good at in a very narrower field. Excellent coolies. Very few have entrepreneurial sprit. Thus, I would strongly advocate for an education system that plays emphasis on vernacular language upto 5th grade and then dual languages. In both cases critical thinking should be the emphasis.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. https://scepticsree.blogspot.in/2017/02/all-this-talk-about-using-social-media.html

      Have written a blog as the comment section is too short please go through.

  3. Simple answer for you -> http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001521/152198e.pdf

    Almost every point of yours is easily countered:-
    1) Economic advantage of English speaking countries - You fail to differentiate between knowing a language and that language being the medium of instruction
    2) India has many languages -> India is like Europe. Each state is as important as a European country. Europeans would laugh if suggested they must forgo their languages to become united.
    3) Unfortunate personal experience of person being fired -> Again you do not differentiate betwee medium of instruction and knowing a language. Also this is a phenomenon of fresh water fish in sea water. You don't care about creating an ecosystem of sea water and expect the fish to survive in fresh water. Creating ecosystem requires getting out of comfort zone and putting the work (by the state). Can expect people magically surviving in an English education privileged setup and blame the Indian languages for it.
    4) No one is asking you to force a language on the people. Offer both English medium based higher education and Mother tongue based higher education. Let ppl choose. English has to be taught as an extra subject.
    5) Case of mother tongue education advocates being hypocrites using twitter and English to make my case -> Will you and the others understand me if I keep making my case in Tamil? Quite a senseless point to make. You cannot sow a mango seed and expect a coconut tree. The people produced by the present system will obviously communicate in English. Have you thought about what they have lost. Need a little patient thinking to realize what a language means to a culture. Its like the very flavor of the fruit. They can only be passive receptors of past knowledge in their mother tongues while contributing an absolute zero to knowledge in that language. Have you thought about serving the mother tongue back? Increasingly people can hardly speak in their mother tongues with even a mediocre intellectual depth. Mother tongue is not going to survive if we respect it enough only to speak it at home with an a very mediocre proficiency and half the words in English. Just 2 generations down, they would care two hoots to even preserve the language.
    6) The one point that is hard to counter is the effort involved in translating the existing literature in STEM. But if google can map the whole world, this is hardly an impediment for those with a will.


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