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If German is the language of higher education in Germany

French in France and Italian in Italy, then why should Odia not be the medium of instruction at that level in Odisha is what some of our language experts and intellectuals have been asking of late. This question seems to be addressed to both the appropriate authorities and the people.  They think that it has not happened because our elitedo not love for their own language and have excessive love for the English language. Once, in a public meeting, a senior academic put it rather colourfully; he said the love of English is like the fascination for the other woman. And by saying so, he censored both the elite and unintentionally, “the other woman”.  Now, the language of higher education in almost all the states in our country is English. By the way, what about the not- so- well off educated and well-educated, i.e., those who do not count as the “elite” in the elite’s eye, in our state? They too desire English- medium education for their children. The same holds for the other states. In terms of the love- of- language logic mentioned above, so many people all over the country do not love their language. This doesn’t sound very convincing.Maybe there is a different explanation? Worth thinking about it, perhaps?

Incidentally, in all the European countries, there are universities where the medium of instruction is the local language and there are English-medium universities there too and in the global ranking, it is mainly the latter which find a place. Ranking apart, English-medium universities attract foreign students. Can that be a small consideration? If Bhubaneswar has to be the educational hub of our part of the country, there have to some institutions of higher education, where the medium of instruction is English. To be fair, no one is denying this.

Together with matter of the medium of higher education, consider this:In Odisha, English continues to be the main language of administration, despite Odia being the official language of the state. “The Orissa Official Language Act, 1954” (“Orissa” was spelling of Odisha before 2011) has not been fully implemented yet. The Governmenthas not been able to implement its own decision, maybe its own employees have not cooperated with it. What could be a reasonable explanation? Everyone knows, surely the employees know too, that using Odia for administrative purposes would be in the interests of the people. Inspired by the great Odia writer and thinkerPhakirmohanaSenapati’sobservations in his Atmacharita in a comparable context, I venture to suggest that there is reluctance to change, even when the change would benefit the society. There’s the saying, “Old habits die hard”! 

Odia (spelt “Oriya” earlier) became the language of education in Odisha in 1870. Needless to say, at the primary school level. Those who were unhappy with this decision of the Government, started saying, as Phakirmohanobserves in his Atmacharita, that it would really amount to nothing, because barring the Sahitya (literature) book, the books in all subjects which were taught, were in Bengali. Phakirmohan responded to this situation by writing text books in Odia. BichhandaCharanaPattnaik, well-known writer and translator and a few others also joined him in this highly laudable effort. This is a shining example of love for one’s language.

In the last few decades, how many of our celebrated writers written knowledge-based text books for primary school children? Not many, surely! Can one saythat they don’t have love for their language? Not at all. The conditions to which Phakirmohan and others had responded in the way mentioned above, had changed. So they didn’t have to do what those venerable persons had done.

Having said this, let me mention that although there was no compulsion of a comparable kind in Bengal, such great writers and thinkers as Rabindranath Tagore and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagarwrote fascinating little books for children. This shows their concern for quality education at the primary level.

When Odia became the language of education at the high school level, quality text books in all subjects, including science and mathematics, were written by the high school and college teachers, well-known scholars and writers. That is, when the need arose, people rose to the occasion. In these days of information technology, computer education must be part of the school curriculum in all schools and for that reason, there is the need for school text books on the subject in Odia. As far as I know, a couple of books on the computer have already been published but I am not sure whether these can be used as high school text books. But a beginning has been made and hopefully, it may not take long before text books arrive.

Now, what has happened at the school level hasn’t happenedat the level of higher education, especially in science and technology The medium of instruction has been English and it has been accepted by the society and the State. This has been the case almost all over the country. It is not that the Government of India and of those of many States including Odisha have not made efforts to modernize the respective regional languages in order that they become the carrier of modern knowledge in technical subjects but these are very inadequate. Preparation of bilingual dictionaries and glossaries of technical terms are absolutely necessary but these cannot by themselves lead to the writing of technical books. In any case, in the absence of an enabling environment, text and reference books in our languages for use at the higher level of education, especially technical education, have hardly been produced.

With NEP 2020, the situation has changed. It provides for the use of the regional languages for education in technology. The States are encouraged to implement this. Odisha is one of the States which has done so. As a consequence, there has arisen the urgent need for quality text and reference books in this area.Going by reports in the media, efforts are already being made in this direction. Specialists will write text books and the necessary academic discourse in all subjects will emerge in Odia. It will not happen tomorrow or the day after though but this is only to be expected. Incidentally, at the university level, all subjects are technical subjects, not just science, engineering, law and medicine. It has not generally been appreciated that general education ends at school.

In sum, love of a language by itself does not create a need – a space – for the extensive use of the language in the society. There are other factors, as we have seen. Once the need arises, the speakers of the language meet the challenge. It has happened in the school education sector in our State, as in the other States. There is no room for anxiety when it comes to the level of higher education.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Prof. B.N.Patnaik

Retd. Professor of Linguistics and English, IIT Kanpur

Email: [email protected]

(Images from the net)

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