Tuesday, July 21, 2009

India's Supreme Court on mother and other tongues


The apex court rejected the argument of senior counsel PP Rao appearing for the state [Karnataka] who, quoting experts, claimed that the mother tongue was essential to be imparted at an impressionable age for the overall intellectual and cultural development of a child.

"Parents are ready to pay Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 for getting their children admitted in English medium schools. This is the real state of affairs. They do not want to send them to schools of their mother tongue. It should be left to the parents," the bench observed.

The court is right, of course: "This is the real state of affairs." Where it is wrong is in rejecting the overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness of mother-tongue medium education.

But it is not enough for Mr PP Rao to present this evidence. What he ought to have impressed upon the court was that it is not about mother tongue or "other" tongue; bilingual education is about acquiring both Kannada and English: additive bilingualism.

And the research is unequivocal on that as well. Coincidentally, I was just reading Stephen Krashen on bilingual education:

Scientifically valid controlled studies have been done, and they consistently show that students in properly organized bilingual programs acquire at least as much English as comparison students in all-English programs, and usually acquire more. The most recent review of this research is Greene (1997) (see also Willig, 1985), who used statistical tools far more precise than those used in previous reviews. Greene concluded that the use of the native language in instructing limited English proficient children has "beneficial effects" and that "efforts to eliminate the use of the native language in instruction ... harm children by denying them access to beneficial approaches."

Studies from other countries are very consistent with results from the United States. Children in well-organized bilingual programs acquire as much of the second language as those in "immersion" programs or more. Studies confirming this have been done with Turkish and Urdu speaking children in Norway, Punjabi speaking children in England, Turkish and Arabic speaking children in the Netherlands, Finnish-speaking children in Sweden, Gapapuyngu speaking children in Australia, and Tzeltal and Tzotzil speaking children in Mexico (Krashen, 1999a).

All the references are in Krashen's critical review.

This is a case where research results have not yet entered public awareness on the subject. Just as the Court would not leave many, many educational matters "to the parents" (or to teachers or school management), bilingual education too is a subject on which it should be guided by worldwide research. The fact is that children in Karnataka can speak about chemistry or geography in both Kannada and English - just as children in good bilingual programs across the world do.

2 comments:

Basab Pradhan said...

"Just as the Court would not leave many, many educational matters "to the parents" (or to teachers or school management), bilingual education too is a subject on which it should be guided by worldwide research."

Giri - it seems to me that the Supreme Court did its job by protecting the freedom of parents to educate their children in whatever language of instruction they choose to. If bilingual education is beneficial for the child, why should parents be against it?

गिरिधर | giridhar | గిరిధర్ said...

Thanks, Basab, for that reasonable question:

> If bilingual education is
> beneficial for the child, why
> should parents be against it?

One answer is in the writings of Tove Skutnabb-Kangas. Here's what she says in a recent essay (PDF):

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Two of the most harmful myths in ITM [indigenous/tribal and minority] education are that starting to teach ITM children early through the medium of a dominant language, be it a regional dominant language or English, and exposing the children maximally to this language, results in good competence in that language. Wrong wrong wrong!

The more the mother tongue is used as the teaching language, the better the results also in English, the world's largest study, with over 200,000 children in the USA showed (Thomas & Collier 2002). The other myth is that knowing English is enough and guarantees a good job. A large-scale European study "Plurilingual competences on the labour market" (1998-2000, random sample panel, 8,232 individuals, aged 20-64) concluded:

"The advantages of commanding English will tend to diminish when these competencies become more and more abundant" (Klein 2007: 278). English opens some doors – yes. But a safe way towards good competence in English – or a regional dominant language – starts with mainly mother tongue medium education.

All the references mentioned here can be found on my home page in my over 300-page bibliography at www.Tove-Skutnabb-Kangas.org. Several longer articles about similar issues can also be downloaded there.
*********

The "early-start" and "maximal-exposure" myths need to be exploded. They cause a great deal of misery to kids, and - to the extent that they succeed - result in subtractive bilingualism (or multilingualism).