While the new National Education Policy recommends greater use of the local language as a medium of instruction, specific ramifications of this will unfold over time. One announcement that has caused churn in recent weeks is that the next academic session will see selected engineering institutions including IITs and NITs offer technical education in regional languages as well. Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal has done widespread outreach on this, and he emphasises the need to strengthen and save the 22 languages in the Eighth Schedule of our Constitution. The question is whether this worthy goal should be pursued through re-engineering elite engineering institutions.
As much as education, science and technology already shape the global landscape today, they will play the ultimate role in defining which nations succeed or fail tomorrow. In this context it is a matter of concern how few globally competitive institutes of excellence India has, and on top of this IITs have dropped further behind in the QS World University rankings. Government told Parliament last year that there is a shortage of 3,709 faculty members against a sanctioned strength of 9,718 across the 23 IITs. When almost all the top engineering education has hitherto been in English, where will the faculty be found for delivering technical lectures in regional languages?
Pointing to how excellent technical education is offered in Chinese and German in those countries misses the key point: There the entire ecosystem as well as history are geared in the same direction whereas here we are trying to buck that. Unlike those nations India is a multilingual country, and even there more courses are being offered in English than before. Local language textbooks and translations are not even available for traditional engineering courses, forget new ones like artificial intelligence. IITs are supposed to be autonomous institutions – an essential precondition for excellence. Let them choose what language they want to teach in.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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