Why is it better for students to learn in the language they can understand?

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It is best for students to learn in the language they understand, says Sandeep Bapna, Managing Director, Khan Academy India

According to the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, “as far as possible, the language of instruction up to class 5 at least, but preferably up to class 8 and beyond, will be the language spoken at home / mother tongue / local language / regional language ”. While not mandatory, research shows that it has its benefits, such as effective learning in communities where children have minimal or no English proficiency, and can help reduce dropouts and increase student participation.

Khan Academy India (KAI), a non-profit organization incorporated in India, has aligned itself with this belief. Founded by Khan Academy Inc. and Tata Trusts, KAI provides free learning resources and assessment and feedback tools for grades 1-12, in English and regional languages ​​like Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada and Tamil. Sandeep Bapna, Managing Director, Khan Academy India, further sheds light on the effectiveness of learning in regional languages ​​and explains why KAI supports this idea.

Khan Academy embarked on digital learning long before the pandemic. What advantage did you have because of this?

First of all, it allowed us to react quickly to the situation. Within two to three weeks of the schools closing, we were able to reach five lakh students in Delhi with “home learning” kits. We were able to take similar steps with a few other state partners. The advantage was therefore that we had the necessary resources to deliver.

Is the challenge for KAI unique due to the multiplicity of instructional materials and tables?

It’s a challenge for everyone in India, so it’s not unique in that sense. The real challenge for us is: how fast can we move forward on this front? Translating a large body of content takes time, as it’s not just about using voiceovers, but recreating the entire content.

How does the localization process work?

In three stages: The first is the translation, which takes around nine months; then we start the pilot phase with 50-100 schools to assess how the content can be integrated and what type of training works; finally, we must start to develop. The challenge of the last step is the infrastructure available in the schools. It is changing a bit now. With this model in place, over the next two to three years, we aim for 9 out of 10 students to have access to KAI resources in their own language.

How to make teaching in regional languages ​​more effective in the context of higher education, employment or research opportunities?

If you are a learner of a regional language, the first priority should be to build a solid foundation in your early years of schooling, up to college. If you can consolidate your understanding of math, science, and language in your own language, you are ready to continue in the language of your choice. But here is where things come into play that are beyond our purview: are there enough high-quality educational institutions in local languages ​​where students can pursue advanced careers?

There is research globally on blended learning, where a student has to learn both a subject like math and the language in which it is taught. We make life difficult for students. So, at least initially, it is best for students to learn in the language they can understand. This way, they can focus only on the topic.

Have you been able to measure the effectiveness of learning in a regional language?

We did not and it will likely be a complex study. When we started in India about four years ago, KAI was only available in English. The share of the vernacular was then 0%. Now it’s already over 15-20% per month. I predict that in a few years it will be over 50%. It is a combination of content that becomes available, students become aware of the content and use it. If you see metrics like YouTube videos, Hinglish videos trump all other languages. So, from an engagement parameter, I would say that learning in a regional language is definitely more effective.

In a changing educational scenario, what is the way forward?

Technology can be used to empower teachers. So, taking advantage of the technology in a classroom with a human who can guide students in the early years will be the most effective method.


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