The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a government cannot impose a language, including the mother tongue, as the only medium of instruction for primary education.
A five-judge constitution bench held that imposition of a language by the state government affects the fundamental rights of the parents and the children, who are authorised to decide on their mother tongue.
“The right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution includes the freedom of a child to be educated at the primary stage of school in a language of the choice of the child and the state cannot impose controls on such choice just because it thinks that it will be more beneficial for the child if he is taught in the primary stage of school in his mother tongue,” held Justice A K Patnaik, author of the judgment.
“We, therefore, hold that a child. or on his behalf his parent or guardian, has a right to freedom of choice with regard to the medium of instruction in which he would like to be educated at the primary stage in school. Imposing other restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression will be harmful to the development of the personality of the individual citizen and will not be in the larger interest of the nation,” said the court.
The court said though experts may opine that children studying in primary classes could learn better if they were taught in their mother tongue, the state cannot stipulate it as a pre-condition for granting recognition to aided schools as well as private unaided schools.
Such a compulsion, the bench said, also violates the fundamental right of the minority and private unaided schools to carry on any occupation under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. “The right to establish and administer an educational institution will include the right of a citizen to establish a school for imparting education in a medium of instruction of his choice,” it added.
The court further held that even a linguistic minority institution cannot be compelled to adopt a particular language as the sole medium of instruction since their right to choice would empower them to take steps in the interests of such minority groups.
“We accordingly hold that the state has no power under Article 350A of the Constitution to compel the linguistic minorities to choose their mother tongue only as a medium of instruction in primary schools,” it said.
The court was deciding a bunch of petitions, arising out of a notification by the Karnataka government which sought to make Kannada the sole medium of instruction in primary schools across the state. The SC upheld the state high court order which had held the exercise to be untenable in law, but laid down different rationale.