A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India ruled that a child has a constitutional right to choose the medium of instruction at the primary school stage and government cannot impose a language, including the mother tongue, as the only medium of instruction.
The five-judge Bench said, “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.”
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 Bench also defined mother tongue as the language of the linguistic minority in a State and it is the parent or the guardian of the child who will decide what the mother tongue of child is. The Constitution nowhere provides that mother tongue is the language which the child is comfortable with.
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.
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.