The Three Language Policy—Antecedents and contemporary perspectives

The states in India were reorganized on linguistic basis. Education, it was realized has to have an element of uniformity for the idea of the Union of States to work, hence the national education boards. The states originally had, and continue to have a say in deciding the education policy.

The education system lays down curriculum guidelines, in an ideal scenario the education policies laid down by the states do not come in conflict with the national educational goals. There is however a subject which is often in the news and in the courts—the question of language in schools. The contention arises with regard to the medium of instruction and on the question of which languages to be taught in the schools compulsorily.

An attempt to approach the question of language in schools was made in the form of the ‘three language formula’. It was in 1961 that the three language formula came into being. It was made by the union government in collaboration with the states.

The antecedents of the three language formula can be found in Gandhi’s idea of accommodating regional and national sensibilities with regard to language. He proposed that the regional language be used for the state purposes, Hindustani (later interpreted as Hindi) in higher courts and central government offices and English for international diplomacy.

The Three Language Formula was brought into the National Education Policy in 1968. This implied different language combinations for Hindi and Non-Hindi speaking areas in India. the combinations were as follows-In Hindi speaking areas : a) Hindi b) English c) Modern Indian language (preferably south Indian language), in Non-Hindi speaking areas: a) The regional language b) Hindi c) English.

Despite the initial enthusiasm of the union government regarding the implementation of the suggested three language formula the adoption levels that were seen at the level of different states were very uneven. For political, educational, linguistic and socio-cultural reasons, the three language formula took different forms.In effect, the three language formula became, depending on the state implementing it, a 3+1/-1 formula. For instance, the speakers of the minority language learned four languages at school, the regional language, Hindi, English and their mother tongue. Many Hindi speaking states saw Sanskrit as the Third language in lieu of any modern Indian language. This is the reason why there are no Hindi speaking regions where any other modern Indian language, south-Indian or any other is taught. Conversely, certain non-Hindi speaking states never implemented Hindi as the third language.

Hence we see that the three language formula took many shapes and forms in Indian states and English consolidated its position as the lingua franca over time.

It must be said that the three language formula has worked well when and where it was implemented. One state that stands apart in this regard is the state of Tamil Nadu.

Contemporarily, the three language formula has been promoted by the national government after several recommendations from organizations of the civil society. In 2007, National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities in a report stated that the three language formula should be invariably implemented and mother tongue must be included in it.

There are detractors of the three language formula. They are the ones who believe that the multiple language place a burden on children. Despite the difference of opinions, learning of second and third language is more or less a norm in India.

Multilingual education is favored in most of the countries of the world as it is believed that it is conducive for national integration, mainstreaming of the marginalized sections and expanding their opportunities and for bettering the chances of success in higher education.

It is also believed that the cognitive abilities of the children who are adept in several languages tend to be more diverse and advance than those who are monolingual. Intellectual flexibility and being more perceptive are some other qualities attributed to polyglots.

CBSE’s language policy

CBSE, in its guidelines, states that it expects all the students to study three languages upto class VIII. The guidelines read “those students who could not clear the third languages in class VIII, and have been promoted to class IX shall be examined by the schools concerned at the end of class IX in the same syllabus and text books as are prescribed for class VIII. Those who are still unable to clear the third language at the end of class IX may be given another opportunity in class X. No student shall be eligible to appear at the Secondary School Examination of the Board at the end of class X unless he/she has cleared the third language. (ii) Hindi and English must be two of the three language to be offered as stated in the note (i) above, Hindi and English must have been studied at least upto Class VIII. (iii) Hindi or English must at least be one of the two languages to be studied in classes IX and X.”

With the start of more and more international schools in India, the introduction of international languages has become common in schools. Foreign language do not override the three language formula of the CBSE. In international boards, IB and Cambridge, the fourth language is taught additionally, it may replace one of the Indianlanguage of the three language model.

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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