State, Market and the Multilingual Education 

Professor Minati Panda 

(Chairperson, Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)


Historically, the development of multilingual education discourse can be divided into two phases, one, when multilinguality was seen as a problem and was therefore to be managed by the state and, the second, when multilinguality was seen as a reality and a positive resource which could be used to create multiple affordances for communication, learning and identity. In the first phase, multilinguality as well as multilingualism was defined in modernist terms within the discursive frame of the nation-state. Like any other modernist project, this issue was to be managed effectively in order to minimize the chaos arising from multilinguality and maximize governance by careful planning and execution of language policies in education, media and administration. This led to an era of intensive and hierarchical language planning with a pyramidal structure providing more options to younger children to learn in their home languages in lower classes and very few options in the middle and high schools and almost no option except in few cases where two languages (one international and one regional) were used for transaction in higher education. Where ever more than one language was used, the languages appeared sequentially and hierarchically so that the home languages disappear as quickly as possible in favor of the regional language and the regional language in favor of the international language i.e. English. All the activities to preserve indigenous and endangered languages were planned within this paradigm of one nation-one language. In other words, the modernist project was antithetical to multilinguality.  Most of the early writings of Joshua Fishman, Lambert, Tove Skuttnab Kangas including the discourses carried out in different forums of United Nations like UNICEF, UNESCO and many other international and national bodies belonged to this paradigm. 

In the second phase, when globalization due to super diversity challenged the very foundation of modernity- one nation-one language-, the world communities started looking at multilinguality as a sociolinguistic reality and as a resource. The discourse on multilingual education needed a paradigm shift from modern to post modern and post structural conceptualization of world societies, language and minds. Many socio- and psycholinguists started critically looking at the relationship between language, mind and society differently. The phenomena like mono- and bilingualism, preservation of endangered languages, language maintenance etc. were deconstructed to lay the foundation of such a paradigm in language education and planning. While the post modernist paradigm was appreciated within the academic writings on multilingual education, the modernist structures including the state governance systems and the UN organizations appropriated systematically the apparatus of the post modernist discourse on language and education and knowingly and unknowingly created resistance for a larger structural reform (see Panda, 2013). 

The present paper therefore critically examines the recent developments in the area of language and education in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and shows how most of the MLE programmes tried out in these countries are designed strictly within a modernist paradigm. For example, the decision to implement Early Exit Mother Tongue based Multilingual Education only in tribal area schools and not in other schools was founded on the assumption that these schools are linguistically homogenous and the linguistic interventions have to be sequential in nature. Secondly, Mother Tongue based Multilingual Education is needed in schools where tribal and other linguistic minority children study and not in just any school anywhere in the country. Thirdly, in these intervention programmes, languages have to be hierarchically arranged almost in perfect correspondence to their positions in the society. Fourthly, there has to be ‘A’ Medium of Instruction at any level of classroom transaction. Fifthly, MLE cannot be practiced in a linguistically heterogenous classroom. Sixthly, schools catering to majority children doesn’t need MLE paradigm. Seventhly, the code switching is allowed but the same should be practiced and monitored within a bilingual framework. Careful examinations of these assumptions clearly reveal their roots in modernity discourse. 

The only way that the Indian state has handled the tensions created by the post modern and post structuralists’ challenge to language situation and education was by admitting theoretically the multilinguality of the Indian society in recent policy documents like NCF2005 and RTE act 2009 and rejecting the same on the grounds of administrative infeasibility.

The contribution of the international organizations to the modernists’ project of MLE is noteworthy. Through funding support, sharing of best practices and the policing of the state actions in the area of minority language and education, these organizations either supported or created new tools and the structural apparatus that appropriated the discursive contestations of the post structuralists. A micro-analysis of the MLE programmes and the dominant MLE discourses in India and its neighboring countries and the evaluation of MLE progarmmes in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh show how the discursive fuzziness is intentionally maintained in the policy documents and the strategies for implementation to cover up these lacunas. 

MLE activism, over minority sentiments and the market in recent times have gone hand in hand. The post modernists couldn’t reject that even the sequentially arranged minimalist Early Exit Multilingual Education programme benefit, if not substantially, the marginalized children cognitively, socially and psychologically. This not only legitimized the modernists’ solutions but also brought the market closer to the MLE programmes in early grades. Mindless production of ‘MLE materials’ in last five years without working on MLE pedagogy both at pre- and elementary school levels substantiates this argument. Easy availability of funds for material production and quick appropriation of international MLE jargons within the limited academic discourse of the states furthered the process of marketization. The interventions by Save the Children and Neg Fire (an NGO in India) in arm conflict and boarder areas and those by MLE and ‘MLE Plus’ programs in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh show that the inclusion of children’s language and identity texts in the curriculum and classroom transactions humanizes the educational experiences of these children, lowers their fears and anxieties, enhances their academic performances and motivates these children to stay longer in the system than before.  These achievements are laudable but limited as these are analysed against the psycholinguistic parameters internal to these programmes and to the state ideological and political apparatus and not against post structuralists’ concerns and challenges. These programmes therefore fail to develop a system of internal critique. They do not question the unequal majoritarian state practices in the area of language and education even when the post modernists’ analysis of the state and education is theoretically available to them.