A Ministry of Education Task Force to implement NEP, 2020 is reported to be considering engineering Graduate programmes at IITs in regional languages. Many academicians have argued against this move based on the inadequacy of scientific literature and books in Indian languages. That argument is valid. ‘Thermodynamics for Engineers’ in Bengali is available and of course, good books can be written within five years. Technical terminology is not a problem because we can take the help of Sanskrit and Bengali vocabulary as and when necessary. This article reflects on the possible impact of such a change in technical education in the IITs.
Between 1964 and 1968, I was a full-time Research Fellow in the Department of Physical Chemistry of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Jadavpur. A group of researchers led by late Prof. Asish Sinha, Lecturer in Physiology, Surrendranath Day College started publishing a journal in Bengali entitled “Gabeshana” (meaning research) which contained articles on science and technology. We proved that it was possible to discuss science and technology in Bengali to the highest level. I discussed my research work on ‘Cosolvency in case of Polymers’ in Bengali at the lecture theatre of the Department of Physiology, Presidency College. However, I was dissuaded by late Prof. Arun Kumar Sharma, Professor and Head of the Department of Botany, Ballygunge Science College, and late Prof. Shanti Ranjan Palit, Professor and Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry, IACS. In the opinion of Prof. Palit, it was a case of ‘misguided enthusiasm’.
As a Research Fellow in Polymer Physical Chemistry, I came across research articles in German, French and Japanese. I had to seek help from ‘Chemical Abstract’ for the summary in English. I had to remain satisfied with the English abstract because translation of the whole paper into English was time consuming and the translation service was not free of cost.
Later, I studied Information Science and I realised that if all nations go on publishing scientific and technical articles in their respective national languages, it will lead to chaos. The Germans, the French, the Japanese and even the Chinese have changed their previous nationalistic attitude and have accepted English as the international language for science and technology. All of them publish their best research articles in international journals of repute in English.
In 1957, when the Russians sent ‘Sputnik’ to the earth’s orbit, the then American President convened a meeting of 500 scientists and engineers of the USA and asked them to translate every Russian scientific and technical journal into English, which was done in 3 years’ time. After that, the Americans competed with the Russians in satellite technology. Such is the importance of language in science and technology.
IITs represent that rare success where public and not private institutions are regarded as the best India has to offer. Foreigners are aware of the merit and quality of a B.Tech. from the original five IITs viz., Bombay, Delhi, Kharagpur, Madras and Kanpur. This is the result of generous government funding, complete academic and administrative autonomy, quality faculty, stringent evaluation and without doubt the merit of the students who are the creamy layer of India’s student community.
An overwhelming majority of faculty in these institutions has had substantial exposure to global training, education and research and is expected to teach courses in their area of expertise. With the need to teach in a language in which the person is neither educated nor conducting research, the impact on quality of teaching could only be negative. This wrong step on the part of the Government of India will lower the world ranking of IITs. Indian students have an edge in the global job scenario because of their proficiency in English and their ability to do hard work.
With increased affluence and awareness and as a result of globalization which requires a world language, the numbers of Indian students going abroad for higher education is growing at 18 per cent per annum and even to retain the best Indian talent is a challenge. This year’s topper at the IIT JEE (Advanced Level) has opted for MIT, USA. Indian students are studying abroad as they are lured by a better educational and political environment and diversified job opportunities after completion of studies and lucrative salaries. At present approximately 3 crore Indians are said to be working abroad. This figure will come down if we introduce Higher Technical Education through Vernacular Languages.
Without Indian Technical Education in English, the massive IT sector growth would not have been possible. A move to teach in Regional Languages is not going to help IITs compete with either Indian or global talent. What will happen to the global rankings of IITs?
We have read newspaper reports that in the opinion of spokespersons of various MNCs, engineering students of Jadavpur University are quite strong in their respective branch of specialization but could not convey their thoughts in English as they started learning English from class VI. So, the students were not offered jobs. The same thing will happen with IITians educated in a regional language.
In view of these facts, it is desirable that the status quo be maintained in the IITs. If we introduce Hindi or any regional language in them, it will be a sheer waste of time, energy and money. I remind you once again that we live in a global village.
The writer is Retired Principal, Darjeeling Government College and Former ADPI, Government of West Bengal.