Prime Minister Nehru had inaugurated a conference of education ministers where he expressed his views on the language policy of the central government. A section of the press in India criticized his views.
Nehru was surprised to read the comments in news papers. He guessed that a misunderstanding of his views had given rise to the press criticism. Therefore, he issued a clarification to remove the misunderstanding.
In his inaugural speech Nehru had stressed on the need for a number of persons to learn some foreign languages, English in particular. He said this in connection with various development programmes, the second Five Year Plan and the subsequent Five Year Plans.
He contended that for the success of the plans a high standard of scientific and technical education was needed. Knowledge of at least one foreign language was essential for this purpose. Scientists of other countries know several foreign languages in order to be able to read and understand scientific literature published in various languages.
Nehru clarifies that he had not spoken anything against Hindi. He rather spoke something in its favour. He said that Hindi would be more and more used in education and administration everywhere in India except in those states where regional languages would be used. He added that the medium of instruction would be Hindi or other regional languages. He reiterates that he stressed on learning at least one foreign language adequately.
In the circumstances prevailing English was the foreign language he had in mind, though one could learn other foreign languages, such as, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Chinese. But English was undoubtedly the most widespread foreign language in the world. Two-Thirds of the scientific and technical books in the world were published in English.
Most people in India, Nehru continued, did not understand the full implications of industrialization. They thought that it meant that a number of factories would be coming up. But the most important aspect of industrialization was the proper training of personnel. A vast number of scientists, technologists and engineers of various kinds were needed for rapid and meaningful industrialization. There ought to be an appropriate background for the growth of these technical personas. Moreover, it was not enough to get some engineers and agricultural specialists trained in a few colleges. Such persons are needed in vast numbers and they should be adequately trained.
The future progress of India depended largely on industrialization, and use of sophisticated higher techniques. It usually takes a long time to train a first class scientist or a first class technician. The time needed to train a metallurgist is twice that is needed to setup a steel plant. It takes five times as much time to train a competent atomic scientist as it takes to install an atomic reason. We have to organize training of the specialists needed for the second and the third Five Year Plan. It could not, Nehru said, be delayed. It had to be addressed urgently.
Without the knowledge of a foreign language high class technical training cannot be given. It was possible and desirable to give elementary scientific and technical training in Hindi or any regional language. Some scientific books could be translated into Hindi and some technical terms could be built up in this language. But this alone was not enough. Books dealing with higher scientific thought could hardly be translated into Indian languages; changes in science and technology are so rapid that books published today become out of date soon. All scientists in India should be up to date in their knowledge by reading scientific journals published in different languages. It is essential for this reason that teaching and learning of English as a second language should be continued in a big way.
English was the easiest language to learn and it was the most important language in the world. Apart from our economic and technological development knowledge of foreign languages was also necessary for our cultural development. This would enable us to keep in touch with different streams of thought in the world and it would also enrich Hindi which would gradually become a vehicle of new thoughts.
There were many people in our country, Nehru said, who were unaware of this world of automation and atomic energy, great changes were taking place in the world and if we did not keep pace with it we would slide downwards. There should be rapid and through development of Hindi and other regional languages. Our languages were continuously burdened with journalize. Therefore rapid thoughtless translations would deprive languages of their spirit and essence.
Mass progress would be possible, Nehru said, through our own languages, not through any foreign language. In British India unfortunately a new caste, the English knowing class, came up as education was limited. It would no longer happen as education was widespread. In future English could not be the medium of instruction. The medium would be Hindi or any regional language. Then only the administration could remain in touch with the masses and uniform growth would be possible. For the sake of our scientific and technological development we should know English or any foreign language. Secondly for our cultural development we should also know English and/or any other foreign language. Otherwise, we would be culturally isolated.
Hindi should be given every encouragement to develop properly, shorn of jargon, journalize and superficiality, so that it is effectively used for educational and administrative purposes. Secondly, Hindi or any other regional language should be used as the medium of instruction. Thirdly, English should be an obligatory second or third language. All people in India, Nehru continued, could not know English, because it was not possible. But a large number of people should know it for reasons states earlier. They could know it in two ways. One, they could have thorough knowledge of English and two, they could have working knowledge of English for comprehension purposes so that they could read and understand books and periodicals. They need not have the ability to speak it.
English should be a compulsory language in schools, the medium being Hindi or any regional language schools could give enough knowledge for comprehension offer which a relatively small number of people would go for a thorough knowledge of English. Elementary teaching of English could not be done in the universities where specialized subjects should be taught. For elementary teaching of science Hindi might be used that at higher stages English would be necessary.
Scientific terminology should be uniform throughout India. Wherever possible, scientific terms could be in tune with international usage. In many countries, Nehru concluded, learning and teaching of English has been made compulsory in schools because of its importance throughout the world.