There are two different narratives that are widely heard in India nowadays. One is 'development' and the other is 'equity and equality'. There are schools of thought that favor one over the other. Furthermore, school of thought that vouches for 'development' accuses the other school of trying to achieve 'equity and equality' at the expense of 'development'. The accusations are vice versa too.
These two narratives have been built for so long, that there are political parties that have taken up these narratives as election issues. Even in the intelligentsia, these two schools are in existence.
Education precedes equity as well as development
Development, which involves industrialization and building prosperity, is not achievable without skilled human resource. Whether large scale manufacturing industries or building cutting edge technology, it is the people who build them. Education is the only way a society can build skilled human resource, unless the society wishes to import skilled workers.
Consider the narrative of 'equity and equality', education is the only means through which an equitable society can be built. It is through education that all classes of people can be uplifted, and enabled. No matter what school of thought one belongs to, education (both primary as well as higher) is fundamental to accomplish what the school envisions.
Role of language in education
Every educationist in the world would unanimously agree that education is best imparted in one's mother-tongue. Both primary education and higher education, if available in one's mother-tongue, would only do good to the society. Higher education in people's language is important to ensure smooth transition from secondary education. Across the developed world, availability of higher education in people's language has ensured higher participation in terms of number of people enrolling.
If we as a society, fail to build higher education institutes that provide education in people's language, we can never give raise to vast number of skilled workforce that development activities demand. If we as a society, continue to work with the current English-only elite system, majority of people will remain out of higher education institutes. With such an elite system, where only those who could cross the gate called English have access to higher education, building an equitable society will remain a distant dream.
In India, the very absence of such higher education institutes, speaks volumes about the lack of vision displayed by these two major schools of thought. Can you name one famous higher education institute in India that is known to provide world-class education in people's language? Be it any Indian language.
It is a tough job
Yes, building such institutes is a tough job. It demands a lot of time and effort. But, if India aspires to be a developed nation, this tough job has to be taken up. By not building higher education institutes in people's language, no nation has been able to develop ever. Even if India aspires to be an equitable nation, this tough job has to be taken up. With the current elite-system, most of the benefits of progress will remain limited to elite.
Enabling the languages
Now that we have understood the importance of education in people's language, a question might arise "isn't it enough if we translate the higher education textbooks to Indian languages?".
The answer is, "No, it is not that simple". For, the Indian languages lack corpus of words. Words that can explain the inclusive concepts discussed in higher studies. Corpus of words for any language cannot be built by simply borrowing the words from another language. Words have to be built to suit the nativity of that language, only then the words will serve the purpose of carrying and conveying the meaning to fellow speakers.
Such corpus building tasks have been taken up by many language groups across the world. Corpus building is an important piece of language planning exercise, and also is one of the continuous tasks as the human ventures throw out new things and concepts every passing day. For further reading on language planning, please refer this book.
Lack of corpus in any language leads to absence of higher education in that particular language. Absence of higher education in any language, drastically slows down the process of corpus building. Hence, this sounds like a chicken and egg problem. To solve this problem, concerted efforts are needed. Corpus needs to be built for every Indian language, and it can only be built by the speakers of these languages.
Efforts in Kannada
Author is part of one such effort in Kannada. A web portal (honalu.net) wherein science and technology concepts are explained by using the newly coined Kannada root words. Many learned Kannadigas with expertise in fields of medicine, anatomy, automobile industry, software technology, physics and etc, are penning down their knowledge in Kannada. Even the much debated Kannada script reforms have been implemented in this portal. Script reforms is a way to make learning, reading and writing easier for the language speakers. For each language, room for script reforms is unique. Script reforms have already been implemented in several countries, South Korea for example, only to reap benefits.
For the past two years that honalu has been in existence, 125 people have contributed their articles, most of which are related to science. All the writers have acquired the knowledge through English. And, they are bringing the knowledge to their mother tongue Kannada. Not by mere translation and borrowing of words, but by coining new words that suit Kannada nativity. It is an experiment the elite are working on, that will eventually benefit the whole Kannadiga society. You might ask, "how can a web portal help the whole Kannadiga society?". Well, to solve the chicken and egg problem, we cannot just keep sitting on the problem, we need a start. Once the society as a whole, the intelligentsia, the political class, et al understand the importance of language reforms, much bigger attempts will be made. These efforts are fundamental to build what the two popular schools of thought aim to achieve.
(Image source: tdil.mit.gov.in)