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Language and Education: The Multilingual Dilemma in India

India, a cultural confluence, stands as one of the world's most linguistically diverse nations, ranking fourth globally in the number of spoken languages. The majority of Indians are bilingual or multilingual, intertwining language with traditions, cultures, and daily lives—socially and economically. This linguistic richness significantly impacts the education system and policy frameworks. Research indicates that multilingualism offers cognitive and affective benefits to children aged 2 to 8.

Surveys by the Linguistic Survey of India, People's Linguistic Survey, Ethnologue, and the 2011 Census documented the languages and dialects. However, post-1971, languages spoken by fewer than 10,000 people were categorized under "other languages." Kidwai argued in 2019 that this census approach minimizes India's true linguistic diversity, highlighting the influence of multilingualism on its education system.

The language policy in India encompasses official language policies and education language policies, protected by constitutional provisions. Efforts to standardize language use include the 1968 National Education Policy (NEP), introduced the three-language formula, reiterated in subsequent years. The Right to Education Act of 2009 and the National Curriculum Framework of 2022 emphasize instruction in the mother tongue until age eight. The NEP 2020 shifts focus to holistic, practical, and problem-solving education, implementing the three-language formula.

Despite these policies, challenges persist. The question of uniformity arises, particularly with diverse boards like CBSE, NIOS, CISCE, ICSE, and state boards, each interpreting the three-language formula differently. While English and Hindi dominate education, regional languages face challenges, with only Odisha incorporating MLE at the primary level. Higher education in vernacular languages lacks infrastructure, despite AICTE permitting some colleges to offer engineering courses in regional languages.

Data from 2019-2020 shows English and Hindi as predominant in education, with limited representation for other languages. Despite well-intentioned policies, uniform implementation remains elusive. The need for a transformative educational scenario is evident, focusing on learning outcomes, access, equity, and language proficiency. The journey has begun, but a new dawn is required to propel education beyond existing horizons, aligning language policies with overarching education goals for meaningful change.

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