Polyglot engineering education dangers

EducationWorld September 2021 | Editorial

The central government’s greenlight to 14 engineering colleges in eight states to offer engineering degree programmes in five regional languages (Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Bengali) from the new academic year 2021-22 is further proof of myopic politicians rushing in where they should fear to tread.

On July 29 —the first anniversary of the release of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 — prime minister Narendra Modi justified this proposal on the grounds that “this emphasis on mother tongue as the medium of instruction will instill confidence in the students from poor, rural and tribal backgrounds”. But while this proposal will serve the purpose of inclusivity, self-evidently no serious cerebration has been invested in implementation capability.

Engineering is a complex subject that requires good grounding in physics, chemistry and maths in pre-collegiate education. It’s hardly a national secret that good quality primary-secondary textbooks in most of India’s 22 major languages have not yet been written. The same is true of higher education. Therefore, to pitch ill-prepared vernacular school-leavers into sub-standard vernacular engineering programmes is a recipe for disaster. The automated, artificial intelligence-based translation of textbooks of engineering subjects propagated by the Delhi-based All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to facilitate delivery of study programmes in the five regional languages are sub-standard, literal translations of course texts. The plain truth is that post-independence India’s neglected education system hasn’t produced anywhere near enough engineering graduates proficient in English as well as native languages, capable of skillfully translating English textbooks into regional languages.

This explains why faculty of the country’s 23 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), unanimously acknowledged as the country’s premier engineering colleges which were initially chosen by the Union education ministry to kickstart the engineering education in regional languages scheme, have outrightly rejected this proposal.

Champions of Hindi and vernacular languages as media of instruction often cite the examples of linguistically homogenous countries — Japan, Germany and China — as models of successful education in mother tongue. However it needs reminding that India has 22 major languages listed in the Constitution. Promoting engineering education in numerous languages even if successful, may result in engineers from India’s 29 states — each with separate and distinct vernaculars — not being able to work cooperatively on nation-building projects.

One of the significant advantages that India enjoys over China and Afro-Asian countries is widespread knowledge of English, the language of international and national business, trade and industry. This advantage should not be frittered away. Therefore, this hare-brained idea should be rejected forthwith.

Also Read:Ill-advised changes in engineering education

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