I have had on Twitter a fairly good response to my inaugural ScioLang post. A hearty thank you to all who responded. My post was shared and retweeted several times, and I have been able to find the names of a few more persons who, I think, can contribute meaningfully to this discussion.
This post is to talk about two issues. First, the minor one. The #ScioLang is primarily a Twitter-based conversation (to my understanding), which is a brilliant use of this particular social medium, but at the same time, it excludes a lot of people who are not on Twitter or haven’t gotten the hang of it. This latter bit applies to many senior-level scientists and faculty members I know. Nevertheless, some people have replied to me on Facebook; I can continue the conversation with them there and report the conversation here on my blog.
The major issue is a more head-scratching one from a Science Education and Communication perspective. I was privileged to have studied in good schools where my primary medium of instruction throughout was English for both basic science and non-science subjects. Very similar is the experience of many of my friends. In the same schools, some of my classmates, who (or rather, whose parents) opted for their vernacular language (Bangla or Hindi) as the primary medium of curricular instruction, would study in a different section under the same class/grade – but even there, their science and maths books were highly bilingual, presenting the concepts in their language but using both vernacular and English terminology. I believe this equipped most of us to deal with the higher studies, in science, engineering or medicine, being conducted exclusively in English – which was, and still is, the norm in India.
With the recognition of my privilege came the realization that there are way more schools, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas, where the overall picture is very different. According to the 7th All India School Education Survey, conducted by the Government of India in 2002, English as a medium of instruction is used in only 1 in 10 schools imparting primary education (standard/grade 1-4) to about 1 in 4 at the secondary level (standard/grade 8-10) and 1 in 3 at the higher secondary/pre-collegiate level (standard/grade 11-12). Which means, a vast majority of schools teach their students via a vernacular, non-English medium, and this number goes above 90% in the rural areas, and also varies from state to state, region to region.
The relative good news is that a majority of schools opt to teach at least 2-3 languages to the students, but whether that equips the children with the ability to engage in higher studies remains a huge question. When I was in college for my Bachelor’s degree in Science, we had a classmate from a rural area. She didn’t have a problem with the concepts, but she had considerable difficulty in following the classes in English, and also taking tests in English. It was unfortunate that the system didn’t allow for a non-English language, and she had to drop out of the course altogether. From what experience I have gathered, this is not an uncommon occurrence – which is tremendously sad; who knows how many talented young people we are losing out on in this manner?
What this means is that there is a severely unmet need to consider science education being delivered in non-English, vernacular languages to students. At the same time, it has to be borne in mind that currently, the lingua franca of science — for a major part of the world where scientific advances and innovations occur — is still English. Therefore, it is important to ensure that these students are not shortchanged when opting for a vernacular education.
For me, in the current context, what it also means is that I am facing a shortage of people amongst my acquaintances who have had a non-English basic science education, and later transitioned to a science-related field. Amongst you, dear readers, if there are people with this specific experience – and I am sure there are – would they please speak up and leave comments for me?
My specific questions are:
- Did you have basic education and/or basic science education in a language other than English?
- Did you have to transition to English in order to
- Continue working in science or a related discipline, and/or
- Interact professionally with others in your discipline – locally or globally?
- If yes to above, how easy or difficult was it to do this transition?
That also brings me to an additional question where I request your point of view: should English proficiency be a requirement for the scientific professionals?
Please chime in in the comments. Do let me know, also, if you are already engaged in bilingual science communication endeavors; I’d love to learn about your experiences.