The Importance of Mother Tongue

It is a universal principle backed by research, to teach early childhood education in the mother tongue of the child. The same is not true when the medium of instruction is in English language, which is foreign and therefore difficult to comprehend. In many non-English speaking countries, the entire educational program is developed and taught in their National languages

By Balaji D Naique


schooling in mother tongue is vital for educational quality. This argument is well established by research and recognised all over the world. According to research, "Ethnic minority children enjoy greater educational success and cultural benefits from early native language instructions."

"Children when taught in their mother-tongue were not afraid to go to school or express themselves as they had confidence in their language."

"One way to achieve equity in education, opportunities and education for all, as well as to counter linguistic and cultural loss is to deliver early childhood education and primary education through mother-tongue," says Dr Jessica Ball, University of Victoria, Canada.

Language is a symbol of continuity and identity the mother-tongue is the greatest cementing force of unity and integration. In the Union of India, states were created on linguistic basis. The uniting force of Goans is their mother-tongue, Konkani be it in the Devnagiri or Roman script.

However, for centuries Marathi has immensely contributed to the literary works in Goa, especially during the pre-liberation era. Today, Marathi is accorded the status of a working language in the state of Goa. It is one of the main mediums of instruction in Devanagiri script at the pre primary and the primary level education for a large section of Goan students as it has completely merged with the Goan ethos, art and culture. It is well ingrained in the Goan people’s psyche and therefore cannot be ignored, but on the contrary should be given due respect and weightage.

The Devnagiri script, considered to be the most scientific in reproducing exact sounds, according to pronunciation.

As British scholar Sir William Jones observed, "Our English alphabets and orthography are disgracefully, almost ridiculously imperfect (compared to Devnagiri)."

Even if Devnagiri is the most scientific phonetic script ever invented for practical reasons here is every reason to respect the script of other Indian languages including the Roman script in Konkani. However, learning Konkani in Devnagiri script will facilitate learning of many other Indian languages using the same script.

It is a universal principle backed by research, to teach early childhood education in the mother tongue of the child. The same is not true when the medium of instruction is in English language, which is foreign and therefore difficult to comprehend. In many non-English speaking countries, the entire educational program is developed and taught in their National languages. They have made tremendous progress in science and technology in the absence of English language. However, many higher educational programs exclusively in English are offered by many Universities in these countries.

During pre-liberation era many Goans studied primary education in Marathi medium in Devnagiri script and shifted to English medium only from the fifth standard onwards and this logical step in no way affected their educational career. Many Goans graduated to become eminent doctors, engineers, scientists, technocrats, lawyers and so on.

The British imperialists led by Lord Macaulay foisted the English language on Indians on the wrong premise that ancient Indian languages such as Sanskrit were inadequate for teaching modern scientific education. Sir William Jones compared Sanskrit with the classical languages of Europe and declared in 1786, "The language of Sanskrit, whatever be its antiquity, is of the wonderful structure, more perfect than the

Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either…"

Prof Nazirrudin Ahmed called Sanskrit, "The greatest, grandest and the best of all languages."

Max Mueller had called Sanskrit, "The greatest language in the world, the most wonderful and the most perfect."

No doubt, the British have succeeded in suppressing the highly evolved Sanskrit language.

The enforcement of a foreign language as the MOI at primary level has not happened in a political vacuum, but is the result of deliberate promotion as was the case during the British and the Portuguese colonial rule.

When 100 per cent literacy is attained in Goa with the MOI only in English at early childhood and primary education level, the new generation of school children, as and when they don the mantle of parenthood, after completion of their higher education, will speak only in English with their children at home, at workplace, and in all spheres of life, as against the present generation of parents, who speak in Konkani at home. For the descendents of English speaking Goan parents, the mother tongue would be automatically English as it is going to be the spoken language at home. That is the time in the not too distant future when English will replace Konkani and Marathi as the mother- tongue/working language of Goans.

The slow and the steady process of replacement of local languages by English is already happening in some North Eastern states, in many elite English medium schools and in pockets of Metropolitan cities. Take for example, the children of the NRIs have forgotten their mother tongue and speak only in the language of the MOI in their schools, which is a foreign national language of the countries in which they reside.

The same fate will affect the Goan children in the near future. The mother tongue of

Goans, Konkani will slowly but surely become extinct after a century or so, if not protected now.

Imagine a stinging scenario in 2112 when Marathi natak/film, Konkani tiatr/ film, traditional Konkani/Marathi folk songs/ dances, bhajans, kirtans, bhavgeets, classical music/songs, etc, which are vital components of our rich culture, will be part of history as there will be no Konkani/Marathi speaking Goan audience by that time in Goa.

Dr Jessica Ball said, "Up to 50 per cent of 6000 languages currently spoken around the world would be gone by 2100."

Many of ancient languages and dialects have already vanished. To prevent such a avoidable scenario and with overwhelming evidence in support of the mother tongue- based schooling, my impassioned appeal to all stakeholders in Goa is to thoroughly scrutinise and discuss Education For All Global Monitoring Report – 2005 by Carol Benson, PhD, Stockholm university.

By developing a common modern scientific syllabi with the MOI in the mother tongue for all pre-primary and primary schools in Goa alleged discrimination between students coming from different socio-economic backgrounds will be eliminated.

The Supreme Court of India upholding the RTE act and reserving 25 per cent seats for students from poorer sections of the society will hopefully make school education a level playing field to all sections of the society.

In the aforesaid report – 2005, there is overwhelming evidence in support of mother-tongue-based model of bilingual schooling. "Bilingual models use the learner’s first language to teach beginning reading and writing skills along with academic content.

The second or foreign language should be taught systematically so that learners can gradually transfer skills from the familiar language to the unfamiliar one."

This model could be modified, if necessary, to tri-lingual or multi-lingual model to suit the specific educational needs of the state. However, "Bilingual schooling should not be undertaken without proper teacher training programs and appropriate educational materials."

Hopefully, as and when the new modern scientific syllabi is introduced with the MOI in Konkani/Marathi, as the case may be, parents will not hesitate to send their children to pre-primary and primary schools in Goa, backed by adequate provision of infrastructural facilities in order to implement the new syllabi.

English could be introduced as a compulsory second language from standard one to standard four to enable students to make a smooth transition from Konkani/Marathi MOI to English MOI from standard five onwards.

There is a general lack of awareness among a large section of parents on the importance of mother tongue-based schooling. Such parents need to be guided and all their queries on the urgent issue of MOI in Goa answered.