Issues Ideas Educ.

Language Complexity and Multilingual Education in India – A Policy Perspective1

Resmi P Bhaskaran

  • Download PDF
  • DOI Number

Primary education, medium of instruction, Mother tongue education, Multilingualism, Education policy, Language policy, Three tier language formula, Linguistic diversity, Market.

PUBLISHED DATE November 2017
PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2017. This article is published with open access at

Debate on the medium of instruction in the primary education in India has a long history. Initially it was between classical Indian languages and foreign language, English. Colonial rulers promoted English education with adequate fund and trained teachers with modern education background. In the advent of independence movement, the medium of instruction became a political issue. The issue of what should be the medium of instruction for mass education has received the attention in all the education commissions from 1853 onwards. Independent India delineated this issue within the context of national integration and brought out three tier language formula in 1968. Only a few Indian States implemented it, while majority ignored this policy proposal. Meanwhile, the demand for English as medium of instruction strengthened among the urban middle class, making way out for modern Indian languages also from the classrooms. The present paper is an enquiry into the strategy and the methodology delineated to handle the linguistic diversity of the nation as well as the socio-economic mobility of the people through classrooms by Indian State using policy history framework.

Page(s) 199–214
ISSN Print : 2320-7655, Online : 2320-8805
  • Kemp, C. “Defining Multilingualism” (2009). In L. Aronin, & B. Hufeisen (Eds.), The exploration of multilingualism: Development of research on multilingualism and multiple language acquisition. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. 11–26.
  • Census of India 2001 cited in Agnihotri, (2007). (Agnihotri, R.K and Dewan, H.K (eds.). Knowledge, Language and Learning. Macmillan Publishers India. New Delhi. 2010.) 79-88.
  • Singh, Shiv Sahay. “Languge Survey Reveals Diversity.” The Hindu. 22 July 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2017
  • Banerjee, Paula; Chaudhury, Sabyasachi Basu Ray; Das, Samir Kumar; Bishnu Adhikari (2005). International Displacement in South Asia: The Relevance of the UN’s Guiding Principles. SAGE Publications. 145.
  • Gupta, Suman; Allen, Richard; Chattarji, Subarno and Chaudhuri, Supriya (2015). Reconsidering English Studies in Indian Higher Education. Routledge Research in Higher Education, Routlege, London.
  • She defined multilingual education as (1) multilingual: uses and values more than one language in teaching and learning, (2) intercultural: recognizes and values understanding and dialogue across different lived experiences and cultural worldviews, and (3) education that draws out, taking as its starting point the knowledge students bring to the classroom and moving toward their participation as full and indispensable actors in society locally, nationally, and globally. (see Harnberger, Nancy H. “Multilingual Education Policy and Practice: Ten Certainties Grounded in Indigenous Experience”. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, Vol 24, Issue 2. 1–18. 2009)
  • Benson, Carole. “The Quality Imperative: The Importance of Mother Tongue Based Schooling for Educational Quality. Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2005. UNESCO. 2004 Accessed
  • Baker, P. Jumping the Language Barrier: the “fifth skill”, English Teaching Matters. 2006.
  • Cummins, J. Language, Power, and Pedagogy. Bilingual Children in the Crossfire. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters. 2000
  • Children need to learn in the MT until the age of 12 before switching to a second language (L2) education because at 12 they have sufficiently mastered concepts in the MT and acquired MT awareness and consciousness that make them apt enough to transfer knowledge into the L2. (See Akinnaso, F.N. “Policy and Experiment in Mother Tongue Literacy in Nigeria”. International Review of Education, 39: 255-285. 1993 and Salami, L. ‘It is still ‘Double Take’: Mother Tongue Education and Bilingual Classroom Practice in Nigeria’. Journal of Language, Identity and Education. 7(2): 91-112. 2008)
  • Malone, S. What is Needed for a Successful Mother Tongue based Multilingual Education Program. MLEWS, Bangkok. 2012.
  • Thomas, W. and Collier, V. A National Study of School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students’ Long-Term Academic Achievement. Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence, Santa Cruz CA. 2002. Available at:
  • Basu, B.D. History of Education in India – Under the Rule of the East India Company, Cosmo Publications, New Delhi, 1989.
  • Naik, J.P and Nurullah, Sayed; A Student’s History of Education in India (1800- 1973), Sixth Edition, Macmillian India Ltd, Madras, 1974.
  • Records of the Courts of Directors of the Company 1813–1835.
  • Macaulay’s Minute on Education, February 2, 1835.
  • It is a colonial usage. However for this paper, we are following this while discussing the colonial period.
  • Ibid, Basu
  • Ghosh, Suresh Chandra. History of Education in Modern India 1757-2012. Orient Logman, New Delhi. 2013
  • “As a general rule, a child should not be allowed to learn English language until he has made some progress in the primary stage of education and has received a thorough grounding in his MT. It is equally important that when the teaching of English has begun, it should not be prematurely employed as the medium of instruction in other subjects. The line of division between the use of vernaculars and of English as the medium of instruction should, broadly speaking, be drawn at a minimum age of 13”. (Auxiliary Committee of the Indian Statutory Commission. Review of the Growth of Education in British India. Printed by the Manager Government India Press, Delhi. 1929. URL: in.ernet.dli.2015.125001/2015.125001.Review-Of-The-Growth-Of-Education- In-British-India_djvu.txt Accessed on July 30, 2017)
  • The Gujarat University, Ahmedabad vs Krishna Ranganath Mudholkar And Others, RD-SC 67, 21 February, 1962
  • Srivastava, A. K. “Multilingualism and School Education in India: Special Features, Problems and Prospects”. In D. P. Pattanayak (Ed.), Multilingualism in India. Delhi: Orient Longman Private Limited. 2007. 37–53.
  • Ibid.
  • Kothari Commission Report, 1966 and National Policy on Education, 1968, Ministry of Human Resources, New Delhi.
  • See
  • Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). National Policy on Education, 2016: Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy, Government of India. New Delhi. 2016. URL: new/download/NEP2016/ReportNEP.pdf. Accessed on July 29, 2017
  • Reportable document. Civil Appellate Jurisdiction Civil Appeal Nos.5166-5190 OF 2013 State of Karnataka & Anr. Appellants Versus Associated Management of (Government Recognised – Unaided – English Medium) Primary & Secondary Schools & Others. The Supreme Court of India. Stable URL: supremecourt/imgs1.aspx?filename=41504 pp: 45
  • Rajya Sabha question, Un-starred question No – 3524, Answered on April 26, 2013, English Medium Education in Kendriya Vidhyalayas, Dr. Prabha Thakur, MP. Answered by Shashi Tharoor. MOS of MHRD, New Delhi. 2013.
  • Mohanty, Ajit. “Multilingualism, education, English and development: Whose development?.” Multilingualism and Development. Language and Development Conference Series. 2015. Stable URL: publications/2015-NewDelhi/Chapter16-MultilingualismEducationEnglishand Development-Mohanty.pdf Accessed on July 25, 2017