Absence of Higher Education in People's Language Stifles Innovation

Pic source: www.cppr.in
The Wall Street Journal, an English language international newspaper, recently published a blog post titled "Do strong religious beliefs stifle innovation?"
The post is based on a research paper published by "National bureau of economic research, US", authors of which are Roland BénabouDavide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni. The blog can be read here, and the research paper can be read here.

The research paper is of interest to us because, the authors have collected 'patents per capita' data from many nations across the globe. The data has been captured for the years 1980, 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2005. Data spanning over a 25 year period makes it robust for any analysis. Those nations with highest number of 'patents per capita' are considered leaders in innovation. The ones with comparatively lesser number of 'patents per capita' can be considered laggards in innovation. In this article, we shall not be exploring the possibilities of religiosity influencing innovation. Our main focus will be on the nations that have featured in the research paper, and the education system that those nations have built.

If we are to list the nations that have visibly higher number of 'patents per capita', as per data captured by authors of above mentioned research paper, the list would go like:
1.    Japan
2.    South Korea
3.    Germany
4.    United States
5.    Sweden
6.    Finland
7.    Great Britain

Other nations such as Denmark and France trail closely. All the nations listed above have built an education system where not just the primary schooling, even the higher education are provided in people's languages. To elaborate, in Japan one could even study engineering or medicine in Japanese medium. The Japanese or the Germans need not rely on English to obtain a degree (or masters) in engineering or medicine.

Let us also take a look at the nations that are much below the scale (at the bottom) in terms of 'patents per capita'. 
1.    Pakistan
2.    Bangladesh
3.    Indonesia
4.    Algeria

India is much closer to Algeria in terms of 'patents per capita', and India can be classified as a nation where innovation is rare. While Pakistan and Bangladesh rely on English as the language of instruction in higher education, Algeria relies on French.

Case of Indonesia is unique. Indonesia is home to 700 languages, and the official language of Indonesia is called 'Bahasa Indonesia', an artificially created language. As per this wikipedia entry, though 'Bahasa Indonesia' is extensively used in commerce, education, administration and media, most Indonesians speak other languages, such as Javanese, as their first language.
Though Indonesia has built higher education system that provides education in 'Bahasa Indonesia', the language used is still not people's language. It is analogous to making official Hindi as the language of education for whole of India.

While the leaders in innovation have built higher education systems in their people's languages, the laggards are either relying on languages of their erstwhile colonizers, or have built a higher education system which imparts education in an artificially constructed language. The educationists and linguists of the world have long argued, that education is very effective when imparted in mother-tongue. The data in the above mentioned research paper vindicates the fact that people's language is key to improving innovation and scientific progress of a society. Of course, there are other factors also that influence innovation and scientific spirit of a nation.

If India wishes to be a global leader in innovation, it is time India took its' people's languages seriously in education. The message is clear, provide higher education in people's language or remain a low-performer in terms of innovation,


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