Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

Mother Tongue as a medium of instruction


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: anglicist orientalist controversy

Mains level: qulaity education outcomes


  • English should be taught effectively not as the medium, but as a second language

What is the debate?

  • Over the years, there has been a raging debate over the need for children to have their mother tongue as the medium of instruction in schools.
  • While educationists have emphasised the importance of learning in the mother tongue to enhance a child’s learning and overcome glaring inequities, there has been an equally steady demand for English-medium schools in several States.

languageHistoric context to this debate

  • Orientalist: Orientalists were the group of people who wanted to give education to Indian people in the Indian language. The emphasis was on the knowledge of the East. They wanted Indians to learn about Indian philosophy, science, and literature. In the Initial stage, company officials favoured oriental learning.
  • Anglicist: Anglicists were those people who supported the teaching of modern western education to Indian people in the English language. People who favoured Anglicists were Thomas Babington, Macaulay, James’s mill, Charles wood, Charles Trevelyan, and Elphinstone. The Anglicists were supported by the most advanced Indians like Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

languageWhy mother tongue is important?

  • Suitability to child: There is an almost-complete consensus among educationists, linguistic experts and psychologists that the mother tongue, or the language of the region where the child lives, is the only appropriate language of learning for the child.
  • Incomprehension: A child can be taught any number of languages, particularly later in life, but the medium of learning should be the mother tongue. As a number of classrooms today are stalked by the curse of incomprehension.
  • Pressure of English language: There are a growing number of schools, mostly private, that teach in English. Government schools too in States like Tamil Nadu, unable to bear the pressure from parents and to stop students from migrating to private schools, are switching to English medium.
  • Development in every way: The mother tongue, home language or the first language educationally means the language which the child is using to connect to the world, to people, to nature, to the environment, and to make sense of everything that’s going on. This is the language which helps the child to build, grow and develop in every way.
  • Inability to learn: English medium education is a profound tragedy in Indian education today. Millions are languishing because of their inability to learn in English not English as a language but as a medium through which they acquire any knowledge of any subject.

Why English Should Be the Medium of Instruction in Schools, Colleges?

  • Connectivity with The Rest of the World: To communicate and be on par with the world, the first language that stands common is English. With English, a student can remain on par with what is happening across the globe. Lack of English knowledge or alone mother tongue does not allow children to progress with the rest of the world.
  • Technologies Can Be Used Only With English Instruction: Most of the modern technologies are invented, reinvented and modernized in foreign shores. The inventors keep the English language for the instruction manual of the technological gadget so that the gadget can be used worldwide.
  • Higher Education Emphasizes on The English language: The main focus of teaching medium in higher secondary as well as in graduation and post-graduation colleges in India. There is no doubt that lecturers also teach in Hindi or other regional languages. However, question design comes in both English and regional language. But most of the classes are taught in English.

How multilingual approach helps

  • Firstly, multilingualism gives equal status to all languages and there’s enough work, history and research on this.
  • Second, children come from different backgrounds, and in some cases, they are first-generation learners with not much support at home.
  • The multilingual approach thus, is much more flexible, closer to the child, and inclusive. It is democratic, and it accepts that the teacher is not coming from a place of authority and is only correcting spellings and pronunciations.


  • This myth must be broken that our education system is class and caste neutral. A powerful political movement will have to take place to make the language of learning a choice that is made democratically.

Mains question

Q. Should the mother tongue or English be the medium of instruction? Critically explain.

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1 year ago

For me mother tongue is very important and we need to keep it so that it can’t be lost in the future
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