The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for education at the basic stage, released by Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Thursday, has recommended that mother tongue be the primary medium of instruction for children up to eight years, both in public and private schools. say that a new language “inverts the whole learning process” in the early years. He adds that English could be one of the second language options.
The previous NCF, published in 2005, had also stated that the language of interaction and communication in early childhood care and education (ECE) would “usually be the child’s first language, or mother tongue “. However, he also said that in the light of socio-political realities, English should be introduced as a second language soon, either in Class I, as several states have already done, or at the pre-school level.
The new NCF, which deals with pre-primary education and classes I-II, steers clear of any detailed instructions on a time frame for introducing English. It states that English may be one of the second languages taught at the basic level, but does not specify which grade.
Instead, he emphasizes the virtues of the mother tongue as the primary medium of instruction, saying that when children enter early childhood education, they acquire significant proficiency in the “home language.”
“If the child is taught with a new or unknown language as a medium of instruction, the three to four years of experience that the child has is completely ignored, since a new language is taught from the beginning , at the cost of denying the fundamental experiences, skills and learning that the child has already accumulated, thus reversing the entire learning process,” he says.
“Since children learn concepts faster and more deeply in their mother tongue, the primary medium of instruction would optimally be the child’s mother tongue/mother tongue/familiar language at the foundation stage. This should be the approach in both public and private schools,” he adds.
“In order for young children to acquire fluency in their 2nd or 3rd language (which could also be English), a natural and focused approach to communication that also uses the scaffolding of their 1st language is needed (primary medium of instruction),” he says.
The previous NCF had observed that language teaching is a complex issue in a multilingual country like India, where teachers may have to deal with a range of languages in the classroom. “Any Indian language used as a medium of instruction in pre-schools, especially in cities and towns, poses problems for children who come from different linguistic backgrounds and dialects,” he had said.
The NCF will lay the groundwork for changes in the school curriculum, starting with the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). The NCF for the foundation stage will be followed by its editions for higher education courses, as well as teacher and adult training, in the coming months.
The foundation stage edition of the NCF, however, is not so much about revising textbooks as it is about changes in the teaching and learning process. While the medium of instruction forms an integral part, it also focuses on play-based pedagogy and addressing delayed learning.
Pradhan said he expects NCERT to complete the new syllabus and textbooks for the basic level of “Basant Panchami” next year. In other words, the government is ready to implement the report’s recommendations by February 2023.
“And in many cases, textbooks are not necessary at this level, the report states. It’s understandable since most things will be game-based, story-based. The teaching method will be very important. The report includes suggestions not only for students, but also for teachers. We will work on a war footing,” he said.
The report emphasizes that “children in this age group should not be burdened with textbooks.” In the last two years of the foundation stage, or ages 6 to 8, simple and engaging textbooks can be considered, he says.
The report acknowledges that there is currently “a learning crisis in India” as children are enrolled in primary school but are not achieving basic skills such as literacy and basic numeracy.
“During the 2020-21 academic year, of the 19,344,199 students admitted to 1st year, only 50.9% had preschool experience. Of these, 24.7% had preschool experience in the same school, 7.9% in another center and 18.3% in an anganwadi/ECCE center respectively,” he says.