Importance of learning science in the mother tongue
Science begins with the observations and the process of raising questions based on these observations. It is necessary to help a child link up the observations with consistent explanations and predict possible scenarios.
It is well-known that higher studies in science cannot be done in any Indian languages, and we in India need to embrace English for studying science may be in the plus two levels or even earlier. And for studying science at a higher level, we are compelled to give up the use of our mother tongue, which may be one of the major Indian languages. So what is the point in arguing in favour of teaching science in the mother tongue?
In fact, this leads to a stronger argument that science may be taught only in English right from the beginning since that has to take up sooner or later. Let me admit; there are definitely some valid points in these arguments. But there are issues that we sometimes miss out. The first one of these issues is possibly more important, and I would like to discuss it in more detail, and then I shall take up another important point. But at the outset, please allow me to begin with a caveat.
Let us not confine ourselves to the conventional definition of science that makes up for the contents of the science textbooks and are taught in the classrooms. But let us look at the world around us and the questions that prop up in the mind of a child demanding scientific explanations when she is getting to know the world around her.
A child moves around her surrounding, which is likelv to differ from child to child. She may be growing up in a village where she comes across lots of trees, water bodies, colourful birds, insects, and small animals, houses with different constructions, buses plying along the road that has passed through her village, and so on. Or if a child is growing up in an urban set up, her observations do have something in common with her counterpart in a village but she can also come across with different contraptions like an elevator, a multistoried building, a fast-moving vehicle along with the trees, birds, and small animals.
The science begins with the observations and the process of raising questions based on these observations.
Then we, the adults, help a child link up the observations with consistent explanations and predict possible scenarios that may evolve as a logical consequence. For example, if we convince a child that trees need sunlight to grow up, then one should plan a simple experiment at home to show that it is the case. This, of course, is not at all an easv task. But for the communications and scientific explanations related to the observations, if done in the mother tongue, an artificial barrier between the observations, a child's thought process and the articulations of the adults may be removed. All these may be put together sequentially using the string of the mother tongue, the language used for explanations.
Can any grown-up person like us imagine the number of questions that come up in a child's mind through these observations? It is difficult to gauge as the children are very critical observers and valid questions do crop up in their minds. Often their eyes are half a meter lower than that ours, and in the process, they can pick up so many things that we cannot. They are unlike adults who have taken for granted so many happenings around them as something 'normal' without any scope for raising further questions. Adults do not think why the different leaves from various trees have different shapes and sizes, why some trees are long while some others are not, why some birds have bright colours, why some birds 'sing' sweet and why our domestic electricity supply is ac and not a de etc. The list tends to be longer, and unfortunately, most adults do not pay much attention to taking these questions from the curious children head-on. And possibly, as a result, our children cannot acquire the courage to raise questions in the classrooms, which is a primary condition for learning science. We need to empower them.
Naturally, as guardians, we cannot provide ready replies to most of these queries. But once again, we now have some great devices in our hands or on or on our table or in our bag to look for these answers. We have to devote that time to the children. We have to look for a good reply to her query and shall have to try to present that to them. Once again, mother tongue becomes very handy in this regard though we may gather these replies in some other languages, mostly in English.
She should not only be provided with the replies, but that has to be done in a way that keeps her encouraged to raise further questions.
This is, of course, a very important a serious duty of the seniors at home, but once again, I do agree that it is not an easy task. A child picks up her mother tongue that is being used at home. She may not have a great vocabulary, and sometimes her framing of questions may lack clarity. But with the mother tongue at her disposal to express herself, this can quickly improve. Things do not stop here. Once the child has got a consistent explanation for an observation, she is likelv to share it with her friends and classmates. That helps her to take a different role, and with the mother tongue used for the purpose, she can achieve this in a faster and better way.
We need to know the technical terms in the mother tongue to satisfy these children. Once again, we can turn to the device where one all-powerful translator
'resides'. The performances of the translators are not beyond criticism, yet it is really helpful. So we can be useful to the children. Once a child gets consistent replies to her first set of questions based on the observations of her surroundings, she can take more interest in the act.
Once these explanations are made to them in their mother tongue and the children are encouraged to raise more questions, the learning of science begins, albeit in an informal way. And when a student gets to know about science and the situations that science explains, she feels that science is a part of everyday life.
And it is not an abstract set of theories or experiments and is very much rooted in life. Formal learning of science becomes easier.
We should not forget that a child raises questions starting mostly with 'whys' and 'hows', and as adult people, we know the answers are not alwavs that straightforward. Deeper concepts may prove to be necessary to explain apparently simple observations of the children. That way, we also need to equip ourselves. The guardians may think of building up a suitable online forum where questions from the children may be put up to receive replies suitable for them. I have taken more words to talk about a point that I considered not only important but also of general nature. Now let me underline the second but no less important issue involving the learning of science in the mother tongue. And I shall begin this by humbly putting up a question before you. In the section of students that go for further education after crossing the 10th standard, what percentage of them actually pursue the next level of studies with science? Or, for that matter, to what extent do their studies demand the knowledge of science? I do not have an exact answer, but I can assure you that this section is below twenty percent. Among the rest, say 80%, a large section took a decision that they would not pursue science from plus two and, if possible, from class 9. As a result, teaching a subject for which a large number of students have developed some detachment using English actually becomes even more futile.
A society or a government wants its members or citizens to develop a scientific outlook and as the end users of a large number of technologies that have entered in our everyday life they should be able to appreciate the role of
S&T. A section of these citizens when they turn into guardians do feel the importance of providing training in science to their children. If this section is taught science in their mother tongue, they could possibly use it in a better way for their children. This large section did not pursue science because of so many reasons, but as guardians, they cannot deny the role of science for their wards.
Science possibly did not fit into their way of thinking, but most of these people want their children to know science. And if they could have their training in their mother tongue, they could possibly play a bigger role in imparting not only the knowledge of science to their children but can initiate a process that could bring them closer to science, from where they drifted away.