Schools can today participate in committing linguistic genocide through their choice of the medium of formal education – and they do. (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2010, p. 212)
The above quotation by Skutnabb-Kangas (2010) ought to be self-evident. The situation in some public schools in Nepal is that they are running after English medium instruction. In Nepal, the official language is Nepali and English is taken as a foreign language. It shows that the language of instruction in schools should be Nepali as it is the formal language in Nepal. Yet English as a medium of instruction policy has been adopted by some schools especially in urban areas believing that English medium brings so-called quality. Are they bringing quality in education or committing linguistic genocide as Skutnabb-Kangas says?
The medium of instruction (MOI) policy has been a controversial issue in the context of Nepal. Nepal has adopted a neoliberal policy regarding the MOI. CDC (2019) states that the MOI at the Basic Level (Grades 1-8) will be either mother tongue or Nepali. NCF states that social studies and Nepali should not be taught in English; however, other subjects can be taught in English at the Basic Level (p. 36) at the secondary level (Grades 9-12), the MOI will be Nepali or English. The government policy mentions that children can get education in their mother tongue since it is their right; or Nepali can be the MOI as it is the lingua franca of Nepal. Neglecting the linguistic human rights (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2006) of the children to get education in their language, there has been a shift to English Medium Instruction (EMI) in some public schools in Nepal. Is it justifiable to do so or are the public schools violating the language rights of the school children? This is a debatable question to be discussed in public discourses. Considering this issue, this paper discusses whether EMI is for quality education or the destruction of minority languages in Nepal.
It is agreed that students learn better when they understand what the teacher is saying (Brock-Utne, 2010; Klaus, 2001), and this is possible only through the learners’ mother tongues. If the children are provided education in other languages, they often remain silent or become puzzled. Let me relate this issue to the experience of one of my colleagues. When my colleague (Tamang as the mother tongue) was admitted to school, he didn’t understand anything that the teachers said or taught. There was another Tamang student who also knew the Nepali language. Then he used to ask what the teachers said. This example clarifies that students learn better in their language only. What we infer from this event is that we are destroying the knowledge of the students. Learning is for the knowledge of the subject matter. It does not mean that we can get better knowledge in English only. If this was true, Chinese, Korean and Japanese learners would be the weakest ones in the world, but it is not so. These countries are far forward in science and technology including education. Therefore, adopting EMI and compelling the learners to get education is destroying their clear-cut knowledge in content areas.
Another argument is that indigenous languages are destroyed through the adoption of EMI policy in schools. Languages get protected, survived, and promoted through their use, especially in education. Skutnabb-Kangas (2010) argues that schools can kill languages that had survived for centuries when their speakers were not exposed to formal education. This is what happened through the adoption of the EMI policy in the public schools of Nepal. Nepal is a multilingual, multicultural and multiracial country with 131 indigenous languages spoken by 125 ethnic groups (Language Commission, 2020). Since there has been a growing trend of using EMI in public schools in Nepal, learners’ mother tongues are endangered. Once when I was in the field collecting data for my research work, one Rana student (Rana language is one of the indigenous languages of Nepal) who was studying in a public school in Kailali district where EMI was implemented said, “I don’t want to learn and speak my mother tongue. If there is no use of my language in school and in the market, then why should I use it? Only my parents speak it but I use Nepali to talk to them at home.” This shows that the use of EMI is one of the causes that obstruct students to use local or other indigenous languages at home. In my neighborhood, one family belonging to the Newar community. Both the father and the mother are educated and job holders. Their children study in a private English medium school. I have never heard them speaking the Newari language even with their children. When I asked, “Why don’t you use the Newari language at home with your children?” The father replied, “Sir, what’s the use of using our language if it has no value in society? So we want our children to learn only Nepali and English.” Thus, there is linguistic genocide (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000) or the policy that encourages language shifts in multilingual societies. EMI in education is playing a crucial role in this case. Skutnabb-Kangas (2001) argues that linguistic human rights are necessary for maintaining linguistic and cultural diversity on earth. Only the use of mother tongues in education can support the maintenance of linguistic diversity, thereby preserving and promoting indigenous languages.
English is taken as a killer language (Gutiérrez Estrada, & Schecter, 2018; Khaled, 2020; Schrijver, 2013). If so, how can EMI policy in education remain its exception? Although English is a global lingua franca, it is an agent of making other languages disappear because of people’s attraction towards the use of English in education, media, public spheres, tourism, and other sectors.
I argue after Brock-Utne (2010) that English in education is the language of destruction rather than instruction in two senses. First, the use of EMI in education is destroying and limiting the knowledge of education in the learners since they do not get a clear-cut concept of the subject matter in English. Second, the use of EMI in education is destroying the learners’ mother tongues.
I conclude my argument that the only way to preserve and protect the indigenous languages thereby imparting crystal clear knowledge to the learners about the subject matters is through the use of mother tongue-based education especially up to basic level (1-8) education. It is believed that the more languages the learners know; the more cognitive development they have. Following this assumption, I propose that some subjects related to local knowledge can be taught in the learners’ mother tongues, the subjects of national importance can be in Nepali, and the subjects like Maths, Science, and Computers can be taught in English. It is the responsibility of the nation to protect the indigenous languages of the country. The linguistic and cultural diversity of a country is the property and identity. Therefore, the linguistic human rights of children must be preserved. We can never imagine this through the use of EMI in education.
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Khaled, D. Y. A. (2020). English as a killer language: South Africa as a Case Study. International Journal of Linguistics, Literature and Translation, 3(3), 72-79.
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Mohan Singh Saud is an Associate Professor of English Language Education, ELT trainer, book writer, poet, editor, and researcher from Nepal. He is the visiting faculty at Chandigarh University, Panjab, India. His areas of interests in research include grammar teaching, teachers’ professional development, medium of instruction, English medium instruction (EMI), mother tongue-based medium of instruction, teaching English as an international language, English language teachers’ training and education, linguistic diversity, and globalisation.
[To cite this: Saud. M.S., (2022, October 15). Is English in Education a Medium of Instruction or Destruction? [blog post]. Retrieved from https://eltchoutari.com/2022/10/is-english-in-education-a-medium-of-instruction-or-destruction/]