Can the Three Language Formula be implemented?
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Can the Three Language Formula be implemented?

July 21, 2019

By B. Shakira Jabeen 

The Union Government had constituted Education Commission in 1964 under the Chairmanship of Prof. D.S. Kothari to review the entire educational setup and recommend changes. The report touched upon every aspect of education ­— aims, objectives, structure, syllabus, teaching methods, pay structure, language in education, science, strength of the class, etc.

 M.C. Chagla, the then Union Education Minister, hailed the report as the ‘Teachers’ Magna Carta.’ Addressing the issue of language in education, the Commission recommended ‘Three Language Formula’ as a means to Social and National Integration. A different ‘Three Language Formula’ had already been recommended by the Central Advisory Board of Education in 1956 and a simplified version of the same was recommended by the Conference of Chief Ministers in 1961. 

The National Policy on Education (1964) that came after the Kothari Commission Report made ‘Three Language Formula’ a policy. Accordingly, all students would study in mother tongue from Class I-IV. In Class V-VIII, the student would study two languages — regional language and English and Hindi depending on the region. The non-Hindi States would make Hindi mandatory and the Hindi States were expected to offer a Southern language.

Hard implementation

The implementation of these recommendations, however, was not uniform across the country. Tamil Nadu felt that the ‘Three Language Formula’ was a ploy to introduce Hindi into Non-Hindi States and resisted the implementation. Tamil Nadu adopted a two language formula — Tamil and English. Hindi speaking States did not adopt a South Indian language. They too went for a two language formula. Hindi speaking States don’t have a need for a South Indian language same as the Southern States do not have a need for Hindi.

 Hundreds of languages of the North-East were not mentioned to be studied by the rest of India as language issue was very closely linked with politics of representation in the Parliament. The Committee on Medium of Instruction wrote on the ‘Three Language Formula’ — “Some States follow only Two Language Formula where as some other States, classical languages like Sanskrit and Arabic are being studied in lieu of Modern Indian languages, some Boards permit European languages like French and German in place of Hindi.”

 The ‘Three Language Formula’ exists only in our curriculum documents and other policy statements. In spite of these choices, desired improvement in language skills had not been achieved. The ‘Three Language Formula’ remained a policy which was not practiced by most States. Again the intended overall development of education did not take place. 

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Hindi imposition

The Dr.K. Kasturirangan Committee Draft Report of 2019 made a subtle change in the ‘Three Language Formula.’ It made Hindi mandatory in non- Hindi speaking States. (Later the Hindi mandatory rule was withdrawn after Southern States raised objection) The Draft Report removed the necessity to study a Southern language for the Hindi speaking States. Instead, it inserted the term ‘modern Indian language.’ Modern Indian Languages are the ones listed under the VIII Schedule of the Constitution of India. Thus a student in a Hindi speaking area could study Hindi as First language, Second language and English. 

Disadvantage for regional students 

The ‘Three Language Formula’ would be a two language formula for the Hindi speaking States and burden the non- Hindi students with an extra language. Even if they were to opt for the regional language as First and Second languages along with English, their proficiency in the regional language is not useful outside the State and their proficiency in English can’t be compared with the Hindi of Hindi speakers. 

This would create disadvantage for the regional language students as many national exams are conducted in Hindi and English. The Southern students cannot opt for English under Modern Indian Languages as it is not listed under the VIII Schedule. If the proficiency in one of the administrative languages is the criterion, then the non-Hindi speaking students are at a disadvantage. The altered draft allows for more flexible changeover in languages but makes the desired proficiency level subjective.

 At this juncture two questions need to be asked: 

• Why the Union Governments, irrespective of political party, try to impose Hindi on the non-Hindi speaking States?

• Why do the non-Hindi speaking States resist this imposition?

The answer to the first question lies in the fact that Union Governments have refused to believe that Hindi is not India’s National language. Multilingual India has ‘Official Language’ and ‘Associate Official Language’. The dream to see Hindi as the National language is based on the European idea of the role of language in a Nation with one language, one religion and one race. The other basis of repeated attempts to impose Hindi in non-Hindi areas is the Constitutional provisions made for the development of Hindi. Hindi was to replace English in all domains of language use.

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 The answer to the second question points to the linguistic identity that has been built since the beginning of 20th century. The huge political identity built on this otherness of language and race lead to the formation of linguistic States. The linguistic States are grappling to retain the regional languages in various domains of language use. 

Competition with regional languages

Mother tongues and English are competing with the regional languages for space. Hindi has not been able to shake off the North Indian cultural baggage. Hindi does belong to the Indo-Aryan group of languages — the structure of which is very different from the Dravidian languages. Yet it is necessary to remember that the present monolingual State of Tamil Nadu was once a multilingual space.

The Kothari Commission or the Kasturirangan Commission reports are comprehensive on the overall development of Education in India. ‘Three Language Formula’ is one aspect of both the reports. The imposition of Hindi and the resistance to it both fall into the same language paradigm- the Western/monolingual paradigm. 

Multilingualism for diversity 

What India needs is the acceptance of multilingualism for the diversity to continue in all domains. People in India have chosen languages in education according to the changing goals. What we need to concentrate on is the effective teaching/ learning of languages — regional language and English in South, regional language and English in the Hindi belt, regional language and English in the North East. 

This has been the practice too — except that the Hindi speaking States have resisted English. Knowing only one language is a handicap. Make Hindi an option all over India. It is time we paid attention to increasing the language proficiency level of students. Irrespective of the language formulae followed, our students do not exhibit the necessary language skills. Policies, infrastructure, syllabus, materials all become ineffective in the face of age-old teaching methodology.

[The author was Associate Professor of English, who now writes on language issues].

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