Can Gandhi Solve the Language Problem for Indian Schools?

The article aims to explore a Gandhian solution to the language challenge that plagues Indian education design. Looking at the design of the NEP,2020 and its critique, the article looks at how a less researched part of Gandhian thought – that on new languages – can provide a practical solution of creating a ‘four language formula’ for education. The practical modalities and scientific research discussing the ideal age for language learning and the application of new e-learning methods to replace rigid test-based language learning are observed to suggest a way forward.

Introduction – The Educational policy and its challenges

The vast plethora of academic scholarship on the views of Mahatma Gandhi on education has been in and around his ‘Nai Talim’ (Takwale et al., 2010), or ‘learning by doing’ method. It has found various expressions in curricular design in India over the years. Initially, it was the more niche ventures like those of the schools in Madhubani in Bihar by his followers like Shri Chitta Bhushan (MNBEI, 2018), or later missions like Hoshangabad Science Education Mission (Khandekar, 2014), which emulated Nai Talim indirectly through their focus on practice-centric learning with physical interaction with the world for curious students. But these are the more mainstream and oft-repeated ideas of Gandhi, which were even found mentioned in the National Education Policy of 2020 by the Indian government (Gupta & Misra, 2020).

However, there have been stickier issues for the Indian government to deal with in education, which haven’t found a satisfactory solution. Often, they have resulted in a polarized debate on nationalism and regionalism. Out of these, the thorniest issue has been that of – language, or medium of instruction (The Financial Express, 2020). In one case, the government has been accused of either trying to force the issue of ‘national language’ despite the existence of no such languages in the Constitution (Sharma, 2021); or in a second case, it has been seen as an attempt at an impractical policy doctrine that cannot be executed in particular regions of the country. 

Gandhian solutions to the Indian Language challenge

This is where we have to look at the often-overlooked and less-researched thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi on education, which can hold answers to the challenges mentioned above. For the first case, we must look at Gandhi’s keen observation of the role that languages play in a child’s educational journey. We often read about his views on the importance of the mother tongue or his mentions of difficulties he faced while adjusting to a new language when in higher education (Venkatesh, 2019). But this is only one side of the writings he published on the issue. Much can also be known from his opinion on the importance of learning new languages.

Gandhi maintained later that learning new languages was a way to better understand the world around us and also to change it for the better. He saw learning new languages as the key to better communication and to creating a profound and nuanced perception of the world (Eaton, 2011). This opinion was one of his last formed, as he shared it in 1948 – “It is now my belief that in all Indian curricula, there must be a place for Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and English, besides the vernacular language”. This might look like a departure from his oft-sighted older opinions expressed in the 1920s or 30s. But, as Gandhi himself also said – “I have never made a fetish of consistency. I am a votary of Truth, and I must say what I feel and think at a given moment on the question, without regard to what I may have said before on it… As my vision gets clearer, my views must grow clearer with daily practice. Where I have deliberately altered an opinion, the change should be obvious.” (, 2020).

Practical Implementation of Gandhian 4 language formula

So, what should be the role of new languages in the child’s journey, and why is it practical to suggest at a young age to learn new languages? The first question is answered by the fact that we can involve children in learning one Indian language outside their region at the elementary level and one foreign language other than English at the secondary and higher education level – this makes it the four-language formula. A child in Tamil Nadu could grow up learning Tamil and Dogri in elementary education while learning English and Arabic henceforth. Similarly, a child in UP could learn Hindi and Assamese initially, transitioning to English and Chinese later on. 

The scientific evidence suggests that we are lifelong language learners, but the best age to create fluency in a language later is before 15, as per Neil Roberts of the British Council (British Council, n.d.). Neil himself is a father to children growing up in a household with an English-speaking father and a Vietnamese-speaking mother. Thus, his analysis spring also from the personal experience of bilingual children. Here, he mentions that picking up a foreign language at too early an age can have a detrimental impact on the mother tongue. Thus, the suggestion of learning two Indian languages, including the mother tongue first up, and only a gradual introduction to foreign languages. Neil also mentions that individual assessment-based tests are detrimental to the social use of language. Children must be allowed to develop linguistic skills without assessment and through their social context – communication!

The other practical problem – that of providing curricula and course material in so many languages, has been bridged due to online learning paradigms that have developed in the modern era. Already, initiatives like Bhasha Sangam offer learning in all 22 scheduled languages through easy-to-pick modules that can offer a unique way of learning without training a whole batch of teachers or preparing assessment tests for every school in the country. Also, a lecture on communication in native languages can be used to allow children to communicate and learn peer-to-peer what they miss out on in rigidly patterned tests that are taken individually. Governments at the state or local level can offer a few non-regional Indian languages at elementary and non-English foreign languages at secondary or higher education levels through such online platforms for students. 


The mode of curriculum design may require states to pick up a few non-regional languages to be provided through asynchronous learning modalities. Surprisingly, this mode of curricular design is not unheard of in India. In 1969, Haryana’s Chief Minister Bansi Lal made Telugu the state’s second official language. The aim was to have students of North India learn a language from the South. The result was underwhelming, as only a few teachers could teach the language, and a small number of students could access the learning (Bhatia, 2019). This can now be replaced by online learning with the proliferation of digitization of education, especially post-pandemic. A simple e-learning module for foreign and Indian languages can be created by EdTech websites to aid this transition. As schools return to normal modes of learning, fresh thought could be given to Gandhi’s ideas to introduce ‘burden-free’ language learning to expand the understanding, empathy and learning horizons of students, all the while making them more efficient communicators all over the country.


  1. Takwale, R., Sawant, V., & Deshmukh, M. N. (2010). Nai Talim and Gandhian Approaches to Development (Commonwealth Of Learning, Ed.).
  2. MNBEI. (2018). About Ashram – MNBEI. Retrieved January 24, 2023, from
  3. Khandekar, S. (2014, April 23). Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme makes science fun for school students. India Today.
  4. Gupta, P., & Misra, J. N. (2020). IMPACT OF MAHATAMA GANDHI’S NAI TALEEM ON THE NEW EDUCATION POLICY 2020: AN ANALY. Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research (JETIR, 7(10), 1198–1201.
  5. The Financial Express. (2020, July 31). NEP 2020: Renaissance for schooling, but mind the language issue. The Financial Express.
  6. Sharma, S. C. A. R. (2021, September 15). 70 years on, India is still fighting over a national language. The Times of India.
  7. Venkatesh, K. (2019, September 21). Mahatma Gandhi and the language games. Mint.
  8. Eaton, S. (2011, July 11). Secrets Gandhi Knew About Language Learning [Article Reprint]. Learning, Teaching and Leadership.
  9. (2020). My Inconsistencies | Mind of Mahatma Gandhi.
  10. British Council. (n.d.). What age should our kids start learning a foreign language? Retrieved January 24, 2023, from
  11. Bhatia, V. (2019, February 6). Haryana’s South connect: When it made Telugu second language in school. The Indian Express.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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