Mumbai: Three months into his Chemical Engineering course, IIT Bombay’s Darshan Solanki allegedly jumped to death from the seventh floor of his hostel building. An interim investigative report released by the institute suggested that Darshan took the extreme step due to his ‘deteriorating academic performance.’
While analysing the 18-year-old’s academic journey the report went on to state that Darshan had asked for ‘Hindi Help Sessions’ in Mathematics. While this does not in any conclusive manner indicate a plausible cause behind Darshan's demise, it certainly sparks the question of whether flexibility in the language of instruction can actually help a student settle into their academic journey.
With the help of 'Google Translate', Darshan took the JEE two years in a row before he bagged the rank which would open the ‘esteemed’ IIT Bombay gates for the engineering hopeful. And once they did, the Uttamnagar student was faced with an entirely different world.
Prayer meet at IIT Bombay for Uttamnagar's Darshan Solanki | File
“Students at IIT are asked to appear for an English exam on the first day of the college itself. Those who don’t qualify for the exam are enrolled in a mandatory English 101 course,” said a second-year IIT Bombay student. It remains unclear whether Darshan was asked to enroll in the course, nevertheless, a TA (Teaching Assistant) revealed that the student sought sessions that would teach him Math in Hindi.
Over the years, the concept of ‘Help sessions’ has become popular among undergraduate IIT students especially if they are organised right before the end-semester exams. Put together by the ‘Undergraduate Academic Council’, an all- students body, these help sessions take students through a revision of a particular course in the language they request, which usually is Hindi. A senior student of the same department is called in to go over the concepts with all those who sign up to attend these sessions.
“There is no judgment against entering such help sessions. Since it acts as a revision for all, even the toppers show up to get their doubts cleared. We have seen 150-200 students show up, especially if it's the only Help Session before the exam. At times, even our professors and teaching assistants conduct doubt-solving sessions in Hindi and other languages,” said an organising member of the Undergraduate Academic Council.
Regional language textbooks to fetch familiarity in academia
A few months before Darshan’s unfortunate demise, the government was met with ample criticism for its latest move of translating the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum into Indian languages. The campaign started off with Home Minister Amit Shah unveiling MBBS textbooks in Hindi, after which the Maharashtra government also introduced 12 engineering and polytechnic textbooks in Marathi. President Murmu inaugurated textbooks in Odia while higher education textbooks in Tamil and Telugu are in the talks as well.
With a large faction of academicians calling this move regressive, many who are progressing this cause believe that it holds the potential to carry quality STEM education to students who come from all walks of life. IIT Bombay’s own Prof Ganesh Ramakrishnan, who is working with AICTE on the translation of engineering textbooks, said, “Our aim is to create a level playing field for students that hail from all backgrounds, we don’t want them to miss out on any opportunities just because of a language. We have several students who are still not able to think in English. As a result, their learning journey becomes more difficult.”
Citing examples of China, Russia, and other European countries, the professor explained how advanced scientific journals from the native languages of those countries were being translated into English for the rest of the world to utilise. “Why can’t it be the same with us?” asked Prof Ramakrishnan while talking to The FPJ earlier this year.
Indian languages in demand among IIT students
With a marked rise in intakes of these premiere national institutes, the population of students hailing from non-English academic backgrounds has increased as well. As a result, several pupils within the IITs have been stepping up to express their needs for a multilingual education, much like 18-year-old Darshan Solanki did. “An overwhelming amount of students have come to us saying that they understand certain subjects better in Hindi,” said Aryan Gupta, a BTech session who recently taught one such Hindi Help Session course at the IIT.
“Many of our professors have studied in regional language schools and teach really well in their own mother tongues. If the IIT institutionally arranges such courses then many students stand to benefit,” he added.
With this strong belief in the fluidity of the medium of instruction, IIT Bombay students themselves have kept their ‘Open Learning Initiative’ YouTube Channel up and running since 2015 where IITians volunteer to teach secondary school students subjects in nine Indian languages - Marathi, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Odia, and Gujarati. A collection of translated PowerPoint presentations with regional language voiceovers, the student-run channel has now received 125K subscribers with YouTube’s silver play button being sent to the creators.
Darshan’s transition into the foreign world of IIT could have perhaps been eased in the slightest if he found familiarity in the language he studied through, the language he read in. Seeing both, the working educationists and currently enrolled students take an eager interest in the cause, one might say that the idea of introducing higher education in mother tongues might hold more potential than what it is given credit for.
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