Sunday, July 12, 2009

Of Mother Tongues and Primary Education - by Tomazinho Cardozo

Of Mother Tongues and Primary Education
● Tomazinho Cardozo

Now-a-days once again we come across the debate on Primary education in Goa. Different views on this very important subject are expressed by different persons. Some feel that the Primary education in Goa must be in the mother tongue only while there are others who strongly advocate the medium of English for Primary education in Goa. After working for 34 years in the field of education in Goa, I have closely observed the functioning of Primary schools in English medium prior to 1991 and Primary schools in the mother tongue medium after 1991. Primary education in Marathi is not a recent phenomenon as the same existed even during the Portuguese regime.

What do we understand by the term ‘Mother tongue’? Mother tongue is that language which the child first learns form his/her mother. This means that if the mother talks to her child in Konkani then Konkani becomes the mother tongue of that child. So also if the mother talks to the child in Marathi, English, Kannada, etc, the mother tongue of the child will be Marathi, English, Kannada, respectively. Hence it becomes easy for the child to comprehend whatever that is taught in the class room. This is the pedagogical principle accepted throughout the world in the field of education. Therefore it is absolutely necessary to know and accept which is the mother tongue of the child at the time of admission in the school.

If we analyze the Primary education in Goa we find that there are more or less 130 Government aided Primary Schools offering Konkani medium and little over 70 Government Primary schools in Konkani medium while there are over 900 government primary schools teaching in Marathi. Therefore we find that from the government financed primary schools, little over 200 schools function in the medium of Konkani while over 900 schools prefer Marathi as the medium of Primary education. Does this mean that the primary education in Goa is in the mother tongue? If yes then does Goa have two mother tongues – Konkani and Marathi? This is the most important question that the protagonists of Primary education in the mother tongue must answer immediately.

I have observed that most leaders of Konkani movement stress upon the use of mother tongue in Primary education. I have realized that such a stand is taken by these leaders in order to deny any government financial support to primary schools in English medium. From their statements it appears that Goa has two mother tongues – Konkani and Marathi because more Goans are attracted towards Primary education in Marathi than in Konkani. The protagonists of mother tongue appears to be confused because they do say that the mother tongue of Goans is Konkani but they refuse to comment on the status of Marathi as far as mother tongue issue is concerned. Protagonists of Primary education in mother tongue must declare whether they consider both – Marathi as well as Konkani as the mother tongues of Goa.

Protagonists of Konkani are on record that Konkani and Konkani alone is the mother tongue of Goa. If so then the primary education through the medium of Marathi cannot be considered as primary education in the mother tongue. Therefore the internationally accepted pedagogy of teaching the child in the primary schools in his/her mother tongue does not hold good in Goa’s elementary education. Marathi not being the mother tongue of Goans the learning process of the child will encounter the same disadvantages as he/she experiences while learning in English medium. That means the pedagogical principle is not taken care of while imparting primary education to children in Marathi whose mother tongue is Konkani. If this is the fact, then why is there any hindrance for the government to support primary education in English? Let me make it very clear that I am not at all against the use of Marathi language in the Primary education in Goa. Whole argument is only to prove that children can excel in studies even if the primary education is not in their mother tongue. Hence schools in English medium should also get as much patronage as schools in Marathi medium get.

Which students patronize Primary schools in Konkani and in Marathi media? Basically these are children from the weaker sections of the society. The poor and the needy students have no option, thanks to their poverty. Their parents are compelled to send their children to these Primary schools. Students from the elite class of Goa including the children of social and political leaders – who publicly espouse the cause of primary education in the mother tongue – go to English medium schools. What hypocrisy? If today many of Konkani/Marathi medium schools are surviving, it is only because of the children of labourers from other states who are living in Goa. Their mother tongue is not Konkani or Marathi. Being the victims of poverty, they too have no other option, but to send their children to primary schools in Konkani or Marathi. Are we doing justice to these children whose mother tongue is not Konkani or Marathi? Inspite of this there are examples of excellent performance by these children. This also proves that mother tongue alone is not the criteria for excellence in education.

There are other issues also raised by some people against providing government support to Primary education in English medium. They propagate that Primary education in English medium takes the child away from the Indian culture. There are hundreds of murderers, rapist, dacoits, anti-social and anti-national elements etc, in our country. Their primary education was in their mother tongue. Have they become murderers, rapist, dacoits, anti-social and anti-national elements because they had the primary education in their mother tongue? Or are we trying to say that murders, rapes, dacoities, anti-social and anti-national activities are a part and parcel of our Indian culture? The character formation of a child does not depend on the primary education in the mother tongue alone but it does depend on the family and social atmosphere in which the child grows. It may also depend to some extent on the content of the education that we teach to the students in primary schools in any media – Konkani, Marathi or English and not necessarily in the mother tongue only.
Some others try to strengthen their arguments against primary education in English by saying that in the Western countries too the primary education is in their mother tongue. Conveniently they forget to tell the people that in Western countries not only Primary education but the whole educational process including higher education is in their mother tongue. How can we apply the example of European countries to the educational system in Goa where the students in Std. V have to shift over to English medium?

As for me the government has to act boldly by taking the future of Goan students in mind. The present policy adversely affects only the poor sections of the Goan society and not the elites and rich of the state. This amounts to discrimination on the part of the government. The first duty of the government is to uplift the poor sections of the society and this can be achieved only if they too are provided with the same type and the same quality of primary education in English medium as the children of elites and the rich get. A democratically elected government cannot afford to ignore the basic needs of its people – the primary education in English medium.

[This article is published on the Navhind Times dated 12th July, 2009]

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