This is the second part of this article where Prarthana shares her experiences and learnings at the 5th International Conference on Language and Education at UNESCO, Bangkok, where we presented a paper on ‘Breaking the Barriers of Languages in India’.
“On the second day of this conference, I was excited to listen to the plenary session on role of ‘Role of English in ASEAN: Implications of Language Pedagogy and Policy’ by Dr. Andy Kirpatrick. He shared that according to Gordon Wo, English is no longer a colonial language. It is usually the lingua franca to communicate with the world. He also highlighted that there is no final rule for English. Different countries have different rules and practices for English. According to him,
‘English is a way of communication. Accent of particular people from certain region should not be a vital characteristic.’ He also added that it is a regional variety of English, but not an external model that needs to be promoted because people in any region would prefer to use the variety of English which suits them.
This way, people will be able to maintain their identity while speaking their variety of English.
He also added that curriculum of new variety of English should reflect the lives, cultures and values of the learners.
Discussions during the session and experiences shared by other participants helped me to reflect on the approach of English language learning used in India. English language curriculum and teaching materials in India are focused more on native English.
Many of the stories and poems used in our textbooks have no direct relation with the lived realities of the learners. Their own culture, regional practices, stories, context, etc. are not included in English textbooks.
When different researchers from Philippines and Thailand presented their experiences of implementing Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) in schools, I remembered the issues and challenges faced in India for ensuring implementation of Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2010. In India, we are struggling to provide access to schools among all children, and the number of students who are able to complete primary or elementary level education remains a matter of concern. It was inspiring to know that countries like Philippines and Thailand have recognized the importance of multilingual education in their schools and trained MLE teachers are placed in schools to create comfortable learning environment. In the initial years of learning, children are taught in their respective Mother Tongues and gradually mainstream languages are introduced to bridge the language gap among different learners.
Another plenary session on ‘Mother Tongue and Early Childhood Development: Synergies and Challenges’ by Dr. Sheldon Shaeffer was very inspiring. It provided new insights regarding Mother Tongue and early childhood development. It was highlighted during the session that minority languages are dying in Asia. Many parents have stopped using their Mother Tongue with their kids. Even if they speak their Mother Tongue among themselves, they do not use the same with their kids.
It was explained that knowledge would die if local languages cease to exist. Thus, people would lose their piece of knowledge and human thought. It helped to realise that linguistic diversity is as important as biodiversity.
During these two days, I was able to relate my own personal language learning experiences withon a more critical level. Over a period of time, my family members have started to speak with the children in Hindi, instead of my Mother Tongue Bajjika, a regional language spoken in some pockets of Bihar. Our Mother Tongue is looked down upon even among the native speakers of the state. It has also weakened the emotional relationship and cultural inheritance between children and their grandparents. After listening to various language sessions, my sense and importance of Mother Tongue and education was strengthened. In this era of globalization, we need to reflect on our own approach towards language acquisition to emphasize the due importance of Mother Tongue in the learning process.”
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