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Engineering courses in Indian languages: BHU pioneers amid challenges

Indian languages that translate from texts originally written in English cannot be compared with French or Chinese, a professor of engineering told Sirf News while otherwise welcoming the switch

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In a meeting that Union Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal had chaired on 26 November, his ministry decided to begin implementing the new National Education Policy (NEP), of which imparting education in one’s first language (referred to as the “mother tongue” by laypeople) is a priority. After the meeting, the ministry said that the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and National Institute of Technology (NIT) would provide engineering courses in the respective local languages the beginning of the academic session 2021-22 onwards.

“A seminal decision was taken to start technical education, especially engineering courses, imparting in mother tongue (sic*). This will start from the next academic year. A few IITs and NITs are being shortlisted for the same,” a senior officer from the ministry said.

Engineering centres where the option will be available

The ministry chose IIT Banaras Hindu University (BHU, earlier called BHU-IT) as the first institute to start offering engineering courses in an Indian language, namely Hindi. “For now we have zeroed down on IIT BHU to start engineering courses in the mother tongue*. More institutes — IITs and NITs, will be shortlisted for the purpose in the coming days,” the ministry stated.

The ministry made this choice on the basis of the observation that BHU has a strong foundation of Hindi. It will select some other institutes after a meeting of All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and institutes like IIT and NIT with the ministry.

Reforms at the lower levels

In view of the changes observed in the school system in recent years, the National Testing Agency (NTA) has decided to change the syllabus for competitive exams. The agency feels the need to evaluate the current condition of school education boards since even national boards like CBSE and CISCE, had to compromise with their exam syllabus as there has been a significant academic loss due to schools being under a nationwide since March to check the spread of coronavirus infection among children.

“The University Grants Commission (UGC) has been directed to ensure all scholarships, fellowships are disbursed in time and to start a helpline for the same and address all grievances of the students immediately,” the official said.

The ministry had earlier announced that NTA was going to increase the number of languages in which the JEE Mains (Joint Entrance Exam), the all-India test of admission for getting into an engineering college, is conducted. The agency is going to include nine more regional languages apart from Hindi and English from 2021.

The ministry has not decided yet whether JEE Advance will be offered in any regional language.


While the initiative is supposed to benefit students who have had their primary in a local language, the sudden announcement by the ministry implies that the institutions would face the challenge of an inadequate number of engineering books in the market. Equally or more acutely, the engineering undergraduates may not find “a sufficient number of professors who can pull off lectures or laboratory sessions on any aspect of engineering in Hindi” or whatever the language of the given institution is, said a teacher of Delhi IIT on the condition of not being named.

He added that even a bulk of the books on engineering in English that are recommended for students are imported.

The professor added, however, that the switch to the local language was a welcome move. On being asked how the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans and non-English speaking Europeans manage it, he told Sirf News that while the Asian countries endeavour to establish their respective languages in the community of students at the school level, Europeans benefit from the fact that the Industrial Revolution involved France and Germany as well due to which the scientific theories did not have to be translated unlike what is done in India when the medium of instruction is not English. “A translated text will always be tougher to follow than what the passages would have been if they had originally been written in the Indian language,” he said.

“This is not a forcibly imagined situation,” said Mantosh Sharma, a veteran tutor who teaches at several reputed private coaching centres. He recalled that during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee rule after then Minister of HRD Murli Manohar Joshi ‘Indianised’ the syllabus of schools, the centres, teachers and students went without textbooks for half the session of the academic year 2002. “Some remote schools spent the entire 2002 in a state of limbo and found the new books not before the next year,” he added, “a year after which UPA government’s Arjun Singh discarded all those books in the name of ‘detoxification’.”

* Editor’s note: While the language one acquires first as a child is his or her first language, the mother of that individual may not necessarily speak that language in certain peculiar situations. Also, an individual may acquire a greater degree of proficiency in the language in which his or her school imparts in all subjects. In such scenarios — far more common than unusual cases of upbringing — that language rather than the one in which his or her mother speaks becomes the student’s first language. This is why linguists hold that “mother tongue” is an erroneous term.

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