In 2013 Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) articulated a vision for higher education in India to be realized before the year 2030. Called Higher Education in India – Vision 2030, it recommends “goals, policy imperatives and implementation roadmap to make higher education boost the growth of India to become the third-largest US$10 trillion economy of the world”.
A Summit on higher education in India by FICCI held earlier this month, brought out a report on the current status of higher education and a roadmap for the vision. The report titled State focused roadmap to India's Vision 2030 "is aimed at developing strategies to align the FICCI Vision 2030 on higher education for the Indian states”.
To achieve the vision it calls out a few imperatives –
The report identifies three categories of imperatives – social, economic and intellectual – and recognizes crucial targets to be achieved under each category. The value of such categorization and targets is fairly evident and admirable, but it is also important to understand the merits and efficacy of the use of mother tongue or people’s language in realizing the three imperatives. In the developed world mother tongue is considered the bedrock of education but in the Indian Union the notion is conspicuously absent in popular public discourse.
Consider the social imperative of achieving gross enrollment ratio (GER) of 50% in higher education. Studies have revealed that mother tongue based education has not only helped impart effective education but also achieve higher enrollment rates. Research after research has revealed that students learn better when taught in mother-tongue, and learning results are meager when the medium of instruction is a non-native language, more so for those from socially and economically backward sections. Hence, focus on quality mother tongue based education can not only help improve enrollment but also close the disparity in enrollments.
The report’s economic imperatives aim for a skilled and job-ready work force. Skills can only be built on a strong educational foundation, to which mother tongue is key. Low employability of graduates has long been a concern in India. A national employability study conducted by Aspiring Minds shows that the employability in the IT Product and KPO sectors, for example, are as low as 4.2% and 9.5%. One of the important reasons for such low employability is the lack of fundamentals required for a job: good educational foundation, comprehension skills, communication skills, analytical reasoning, creativity, conceptual thinking etc. Quality mother tongue based education can help better address these fundamentals.
The intellectual imperatives like high-quality research output and creating a world-class research eco-system also require that students be able to continue their higher education, including research in all subjects of sciences in their mother tongues. We have argued in Karnatique earlier that the highly innovative nations are the ones with higher education systems in people’s language.
Of course, enabling our languages to be able to express concepts of science and technology, and building world-class institutions in them, will not happen overnight. But undoubtedly this is the only way by which we can achieve success as evinced by the success stories of countries like Switzerland, Sweden, Israel, Finland, Korea etc., which top the global innovation index. In these countries students have the option to pursue education in their languages at all levels.
The document clearly calls out the fact that most of higher education is under the control of the states and hence any real change or transformation can be brought about only by actions at the level of the states. 99% of an estimated 46,430 institutions of higher education in India are under the ambit of the state governments. 97% of the 21.8 million enrolments are under the control of the states. Also, 67% of public expenditure on higher education (INR 384.6 billion) is contributed by the states.
In a union of states, as diverse and as heterogeneous as India, every issue should be comprehended and dealt with at the level of individual states. So, the report rightly understands the heterogeneous nature of the issue and recommends the shift of focus of execution from the national level to the state level to be able achieve any real transformation.
Since each state is different and the level of development in higher education is different, the report rightly recommends different action plans for different states. But one of key things for the states in the process of implementation is to consider the language aspect. This aspect can help address several issues with respect to 'access, equity and quality' that the report emphasizes.
However, the value of peoples’ languages in education has hardly been understood and appreciated in public discourse in the Indian Union, let alone being effectively harnessed. Hence the states need a long term vision and commitment towards the use of mother tongues in education, and to be able to realize Vision 2030 it is absolutely essential that they invest on the languages of their peoples.