Eminent neurologist says kids should not be robbed of their right to grow in a natural way by “restricting [their] learning competence” with education in a foreign language like English

An award-winning Jaipur-based neurologist has advocated imparting primary education to children in their mother-tongue, saying it would produce youngsters possessing “fundamentally strong personalities” bestowed with wisdom, motivation, better communication skills, and creativity.

In his new study, Dr. Ashok Panagariya – honoured with the prestigious B. C. Roy Award in 2004 – says scientific evidence suggests that the mother-tongue, technically termed L1, is an indispensable instrument for the development of intellectual, moral and physical characteristics of a child’s personality.

Releasing the findings of his study in the context of convent schools coming up fast in small towns across Rajasthan and other parts of the country, Dr. Panagariya said this trend is the fall-out of globalization and opening up of markets, but added that scientific data indicating positive results of education in a second language at an early age is difficult to find.

Dr. Panagariya, whose work on nerve cells has been widely acclaimed by world-class authorities, pointed out that language is an exclusive prerogative of the human race, with the human neocortex having a large linguistic zone and serving important functions of intellect, analysis, decision-making, and religious inclination.

“These integrated neocortical functions help a child grow [up] with a complete personality and with linguistic skills,” said Dr. Panagariya, who retired as Principal of Sawai Man Singh Medical College here last year and is at present Member of the Rajasthan State Planning Board. He said imparting education in L1 to children with impressionable minds would inculcate in them deep insight, appreciation, and the ability for expansion of new ideas.

The brain of a primary student is hard-wired for the mother-tongue and a child understanding a subject through L1 would be able to assimilate its ideas and interact and cross-question in a better way after getting stimulated, said the eminent neurologist.

Dr. Panagariya cited the “innatist theory” put forward by Noam Chomsky, the celebrated author in psycho-linguistics, to argue that a genetic hard-wiring is responsible for “innate grammar” involving a child’s ability to grasp the syntax and meaning of L1, while the linguistic faculty and cognitive aptitude form part of an innate mechanism that endows a language ability to humans.

“Neurological research proves that the brain acquires literacy skills faster and in a better way in L1,” said Dr. Panagariya, adding that instructions given through L2 – a language that the learner does not speak – have been described as “submersion” because it is like holding a learner underwater without teaching him/her how to swim.

Expressing concern at primary schools neglecting children’s mother-tongue and imparting education mostly in English, Dr. Panagariya said this was a major factor responsible for difficulties in learning and the high dropout rates in schools: “The scenario gets worse when the poorly trained teachers in L2 lack confidence in teaching a foreign language.”

Referring to research by J. Cummins, one of the world’s leading authorities in bilingual education, Dr. Panagariya pointed out that a child acquires during the course of learning a set of skills and implicit meta-linguistic knowledge that can be drawn up while working in another language. This “common underlying proficiency” develops the command of both L1 and L2. The specialized groups of nerve cells, known as mirror neurons, in the brain also help in copying auditory and visual signals of the language spoken at home or in society at large. Once the L1 is learned, a child’s brain is in a better position to receive L2 and the skills are gradually transferred for learning the second language effectively.

Dr. Panagariya – who is also working on the concepts of brain, body, and mind while trying to integrate science, philosophy and religion – said a child’s mother-tongue is part of his personal, social and cultural identity. Children should not be deprived of their right to grow in a natural way by “restricting learning competence” with the education in a foreign language like English at the primary level.

The article reproduced from The Hindu, to read the original, click here

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