Issues Ideas Educ.

Medium of Instruction in the Schools of Assam: a Dilemma between Self identity and Unification

Amar Upadhyaya

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  • DOI Number
    https://doi.org/10.15415/iie.2017.52007
KEYWORDS

Medium of Instruction, School, Assam, Self identity, Unificat

PUBLISHED DATE November 2017
PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2017. This article is published with open access at www.chitkara.edu.in/publications
ABSTRACT

Education is always considered as a medium of social transformation. Education transmits the cultural and social identity of an individual or group of individuals from one generation to another generation. In broad sense education is the sum total of knowledge of society. During the present era the formal education has a crucial role to be played in transforming the existing knowledge and exploring the new knowledge in the human society. The formal system which is also called school system is highly responsible in this context. Now the question is if the demographic distribution of a particular region is highly uneven and each demographic group wants to sponsor their own language as medium of instruction, what would be the best solution. How does the governing system accommodate it? This paper highlights the same scenario in the school system of Assam, which is culturally and demographically diverse state of North East India. As Assam is a Tribal dominated state, the new generation of tribal segments is mostly the first generation learners. The greater Assamese society covers the sub communities like Tie- Ahom, Tie- Phake, Bodo, Missing, Karbi, Rabha, Tiwa, Konch, Sonowal, Kachari, Kalita, Dimasa, Tea Tribes, Gorkhas, Maran, Mattak, Khamti, Koibatra, Bengali and many more. Most of these communities have their own language or dialect and cultural traditions. Now the critical aspect is whether these communities get educated through Assamese language as medium of instruction or their own language as medium of instruction. This brings the dilemma between self identity and unification. Again the growth of English medium schools in Assam has shown another dimension of the aspect.

INTRODUCTION

Education is always considered as a medium of social transformation. Education transmits the cultural and social identity of an individual or group of individuals from one generation to another generation. In broad sense education is the sum total of knowledge of a society. During the present era, the formal education has a crucial role to be played in transforming the existing knowledge and exploring the new knowledge in the human society. The formal system which is also called school system is highly responsible in this context. The importance of formal as well as informal types of education has always been emphasized to make the society more dynamic. In this context, language has a vital place in making the education more sensitize and effective. Kumar (1986) defines language in the book “The Child’s language and the Teacher” as “Most of us are so used to defining language as a means of communication that we often forget its usefulness as a means to think, feel, and react to things. This wider use of language is extremely important for people who want to work with young children for in childhood language plays a formative role in the development of the child’s personality and abilities.” The Language is the best way to preserve and transmit cultural and educational heritage from one generation to other. Now the question is if the demographic distribution of a particular region is highly uneven and each demographic group wants to sponsor their own language as medium of instruction, what would be the best solution. How does the governing system accommodate it? How to preserve and transmit the language and culture of each and every linguistic group. Does one common language is the best solution to accommodate the all population segments of a society? This paper highlights the same scenario in the school system of Assam, which is culturally and demographically diverse state of North east India. As Assam is a Tribal dominated state, the new generation of tribal segments is mostly the first generation learners. The greater Assamese society covers the sub communities like Tie- Ahom, Tie- Phake, Bodo, Missing, Karbi, Rabha, Tiwa, Konch, Sonowal, Kachari, Kalita, Dimasa, Tea Tribes, Gorkhas, Maran, Mattak, Khamti, Koibatra, Bengali and many more. Most of these communities have their own language or dialect and cultural traditions. Now the critical aspect is whether these communities get educated through Assamese language as medium of instruction or their own language as medium of instruction. This brings the dilemma between self identity and unification. Again the growth of English medium schools in Assam is seen as another crucial dimension of this aspect. Due to over emphasis on English the flavor of mother tongue may be lost. The research studies had showed the impact of English education on mother tongue. Azu (2013) conducted a study on Impact of Multilingualism and Multiculturalism on English Language Education: The Case of Arunachal Pradesh and found that The impact of multilingualism on English education can be observed in phonological influence of mother tongues of the different speech communities, the verbatim transcription of it in English in spoken as well as written form. Influence of mother tongues can be heard all around in the state. It affects in speaker’s fluency in other languages. The importance of mother tongue in education has realized through the findings of different research studies. Kadel (2010) found that instruction in mother tongue is highly important at the beginning of education, for development of strong educational foundation. Ball (2010) asserted that children learn best in their mother tongue as a foundation for and bilingual and multilingual education. This implication of mother tongue in school education makes the situation more complex in case of Assam. In context of Assam, the over emphasis on self identity may disintegrate the Assamese Society and culture. Again the high tendency of unification may threat to the ethnic language and culture. So in this context three crucial points can be highlighted:

  • Should education be provided through own Mother tongue? This may fulfill the constitutional provisions for the ethnic groups but on the other hand it may disintegrate the whole Assamese language and culture.
  • Should education be provided through Assamese as medium of instruction? This may lead to the integration of Assamese language and culture but it may be a threat to the ethnic language and culture.
  • Should education be provided through English as medium of instruction? It may globalize the education but it will certainly create threats to the whole Assamese culture as well as the ethnic characteristics of different indigenous communities. So, this paper seeks answer about what would be the best suitable option as medium of instruction for the schools of Assam.

A brief view on Linguistic composition of Assam: In 1951,120 languages were recorded as mother tongue in Assam and the number rose to 200 in 1971. Some of them are new languages names, as some almost dead and extinct dialects even came up as languages during the period. This is the result of the ethnic consciousness gradually developed amongst different groups which were in process of assimilation into the greater and larger indigenous society of Assam called the Assamese. The table below shows the principal languages of undivided Assam spoken with the given the number of speakers and the percentage of speakers to the total population.

Language in Assam always remained a contentious issue. The table 2 clearly depicted that fall in the share of Assamese speaking people in the state through the decades has been seen by the natives of the state as a threat. It has several causes. The most important is the migration of Bangladeshis from the other side of the border. And another is during the recent time due to political elements, sense of self identity and a sense of alienation among sections of people started to declare their native language as their mother tongue. Each population segment has been trying to preserve and flourish their language and literature to secure their cultural and racial identity. This is a crucial issue to be addressed in a state like Assam where population is culturally diverse.

Page(s) 115-126
URL http://dspace.chitkara.edu.in/jspui/bitstream/1/905/2/52007_IIE_Amar%20Upadhyaya.pdf
ISSN Print : 2320-7655, Online : 2320-8805
DOI https://doi.org/10.15415/iie.2017.52007
CONCLUSION

The paper is highly concerned about the growing importance of English as a medium of instruction in the state of Assam. On the one hand the indigenous communities are demanding to use and preserve the traditional languages through the medium of education and on the other hand the rising importance of English really makes the scholars anxious. Language is the identity of a society. Though English is essential in the globalised world but the importance of mother tongue should not be ignored. So, the best way is to focus on self identity with a unified gesture, which ultimately helps in forming a greater Assamese Society.

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