May 03, 2021
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Dear Ms Smriti Irani, JFYI: A Note On The Three-Language Formula

Dear Ms Smriti Irani, JFYI: A Note On The Three-Language Formula
Dear Ms Smriti Irani, JFYI: A Note On The Three-Language Formula

Dear Ms Smriti Irani,
Minister for Human Resource Development (HRD).

The Press Trust of India (PTI) reports you as saying today that a controversy over German being replaced in KV schools has been created "deliberately" and that its continuation as third language would have been a violation of the Constitution.

"The schools were teaching German as the third language which was in violation of the Constitution, knowing that German is not a third language. We or the ministry or KVs [Kendriya Vidyalayas] could not have renewed the contract. I have taken oath under Indian Constitution and I will abide by it," 

Your ministry, madam, had last week decided to replace German with Sanskrit as the third language in the KVs, arguing that the existing arrangement was against the three-language formula and "violated" the national policy on education.

We submit four things for your information and kind consideration:

1. The constitution does not say anything about the three-language formula.

2. The so-called "Three Language Formula" was devised in the chief ministers conferences held during 1961. The National Commission on Education known as the Kothari commission examined and recommended a graduated formula which was recommended by the National Policy on Education,1968. This is the relevant extract of what it says:

(3) Development of Languages (a) Regional Languages: The energetic development of Indian languages and literature is a sine qua non for educational and cultural development. Unless this is done, the creative energies of the people will not be released, standards of education will not improve, knowledge will not spread to the people, and the gulf between the intelligentsia and the masses will remain, if not widen further. The regional languages are already in use as media of education at the primary and secondary stages. Urgent steps should now be taken to adopt them as media of education at the university stage.

(b) Three-Language Formula: At the secondary stage, the State Governments should adopt, and vigorously implement, the three-language formula which 'includes the study of a modern Indian language, preferably one of the southern languages, apart from Hindi and English in the Hindi-speaking States, and of Hindi along with the regional language and English in the non-Hindi speaking States. Suitable courses in Hindi and/or English should also be available in universities and colleges with a view to improving the proficiency of students in these languages up to the prescribed university standards.

(c) Hindi: Every effort should be made to promote the development of Hindi. In developing Hindi as the link language, due care should be taken to ensure that it will serve, as provided for in Article 351 of the Constitution, as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India. The establishment, in non-Hindi. States, of colleges and other institutions of higher education which use Hindi as the medium of education should be encouraged.

(d) Sanskrit : Considering the special importance of Sanskrit to the growth and development of Indian languages and its unique contribution to the cultural unity of the country, facilities for its teaching at the school and university stages should be offered on a more liberal scale. Development of new methods of teaching the language should be encouraged, and the possibility explored of including the study of Sanskrit in those courses (such as modern Indian languages, ancient Indian history, Indology and Indian philosophy) at the first and second degree stages, where such knowledge is useful.

(e) International Languages: Special emphasis needs to be laid on the study of English and other international languages. World knowledge is growing at a tremendous pace, especially in science and technology. India must not only keep up this growth but should also make her own significant contribution to it. For this purpose, study of English deserves to be specially strengthened.

3. The position was reiterated by your very own ministerial colleague in in Lok Sabha in answer to an unstarred question No 3790 on August 5, 2014 by Dr Thokhom Meinya and Shri Dk.Suresh, who had asked the minister of home affairs to state:

(a) whether the Government has notified the Three Language Formula for its implementation in the country;

(b) if so, the details thereof along with the objectives of the Three Language Formula;

(c) whether the said formula/policy is implemented effectively in the country;

(d) if so, the details thereof; and

(e) if not, the steps taken by the Government in this regard?

Kiren Rijiju, the minister of state in the ministry of home affairs, responded as follows—and this is important—on the basis of "the information received from the Ministry of Human Resource Development", viz: your very own ministry that you were already in charge of:

1. The Three Language Formula was devised in the chief ministers conferences held during 1961. The National Commission on Education known as the Kothari commission examined and recommended a graduated formula which was recommended by the 1968 policy. The three language formula as stated in the 1968 policy is:

  • The First language to be studied must be the mother tongue or the regional language.
  • The Second language

In Hindi speaking States, the second language will be some other modern Indian language or English.
In non-Hindi speaking States, the second language will be Hindi or English.

  • The Third language

In Hindi speaking States, the third language will be English or a modern Indian language not studied as the second language.

In non-Hindi speaking States, the third language will be English or a modern Indian language not studied as the second

2. The National Policy on Education (NPE) – 1986 reiterated the need for the implementation of the three language formula in its true spirit while recording the unsatisfactory implementation of the formula in some parts of the country. The National Curriculum Framework–2005 developed after a nation-wide debate and discussion approved by Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) makes the following guidelines on language education:

  • Language teaching needs to be multilingual not only in terms of the number of languages offered to children but also in terms of evolving strategies that would use the multilingual classroom as a resource.
  • Home language(s) of children, should be the medium of learning in schools.
  • If a school does not have provisions for teaching in the child's home language(s) at the higher levels, primary school education must still be covered through the home language(s). It is imperative that we honour the child's home language(s). According to Article 350A of our Constitution, ‘It shall be the endeavour of every State and of every local authority within the state to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups’.
  • Children will receive multilingual education from the outset. The three-language formula needs to be implemented in its spirit, promoting multilingual communicative abilities for a multilingual country.
  • In the non-Hindi-speaking states, children learn Hindi. In the case of Hindi speaking states, children learn a language not spoken in their area. Sanskrit may also be studied as a Modern Indian Language (MIL) in addition to these languages.
  • At later stages, study of classical and foreign languages may be introduced. The major objective of three language formula is to promote language harmony and equality among languages in school education by making provision for the study of three languages with ten years of schooling. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) –2005 brought out by NCERT provides guidelines for effective implementation of three language formula. The document states that bilingualism or multilingualism confers definite cognitive advantages. The three language formula is an attempt to address the challenges and opportunities of the linguistic situation in India. It is a strategy that should really serve as a launching pad for learning more languages. It needs to be followed both in letter and spirit. Its primary aim is to promote multilingualism and national harmony.

3. The three language formula was to be implemented in consultation with/by the State Government. All the States except Pudicherry, Tamil Nadu and Tripura have implemented the three language formula and three languages viz. Hindi, English and State Official Language are taught in the schools of these States. Hindi is not taught in the States of Tamil Nadu and Tripura and Pudicherry. The Central Institute of Indian Languages(CIIL) has made provisions for training in 20 Scheduled Languages at its Regional Language Centres to facilitate implementation of the three language formula by the States.

4. Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) is teaching Indian Languages along with other various subjects as per the guidelines issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education(CBSE). This is done in accordance with Clause No.107 and 108 of the Kendriaya Vidyalaya Sangathan educational guidelines. 

5. The three language formula is not implemented effectively all over the country. Different States interpreted this formula in different ways And as a result its implementation has been uneven. In many cases, the formula has become 3 +/-1 formula. For the speaker of (linguistic) minority languages the three language formula became four language formula as they have to learn their mother tongue, the dominant regional language, English and Hindi. In many of the Hindi speaking States Sanskrit became the third language instead of any modern Indian language (preferably south Indian language), whereas the non-Hindi speaking State like Tamil Nadu operates through a two language formula (Tamil and English). Some boards/institutions permit even European/ foreign languages like Spanish, French and German in place of Hindi or Sanskrit. Only some States accepted the three language formula in principle while other made some adjustments and some changed in to an extent that it became impossible to implement it.

6. The reasons for non-implementation of three language formula effectively could be: 

  1. It was not properly implemented as it was meant to be implemented. The southern states like Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu and Tripura were not ready to teach Hindi and Hindi-speaking States did not include any south Indian language in their school curriculum.
  2. The fear of heavy language load in the school curriculum.
  3. All the languages are not being taught compulsorily at the secondary stage.
  4. Duration for compulsory study of three languages varies.
  5. The States, most often, do not have adequate resources for provision of additional language teachers and teaching -learning materials. 

4. And now we come to the main point, which was clarified yesterday in the letter by Advocate Ashok Aggarwal on behalf of the All India Parents Association:

“ The Board of Governors of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan approved the introduction of foreign languages as an optional subject in its 89th Meeting held on 3.11.2010 . Introduction of foreign languages such as German, French, Spanish, Chinese etc. cannot be termed as arbitrary decision of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan or against the interest of Sanskrit.”

“...the guidelines clearly state, in view of the fast increasing international interaction and cooperation in socio-political, educational, cultural and economic fields, a growing need for learning more and more foreign languages like Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French, German, Arabic, Persian and Spanish has recently been felt. These languages cannot be accommodated within the Three Language Formula. However, depending on the demand for the study of any of languages and the infrastructural resources available with the schools, these languages may be offered as additional options at the secondary stage.”

So what exactly are you talking about, ma'm? What is the problem? Are you not concerned about those students who, in the middle of their term, are suddenly being asked to switch from German to Sanskrit?

And if we may add a gratuitous, fifth, point: please do not just invoke the Constitution of India but also read it. It is a wonderful document and says very nice things about, inter alia, the need to develop a scientific temper, which you may also like to share with, among others, your ICHR chief.


To sum up, ma'm, may we please request that you click on the following links for further edification before making any other statement on the subject:

  1. The Constitution of India
  2.  The National Policy on Education,1968.
  3. The response by Kiren Rijiju, the minister of state in the ministry of home affairs, to unstarred question No 3790 on August 5, 2014 in Lok Sabha [Also available here]
  4. Letter by Advocate Ashok Aggarwal on behalf of the All India Parents Association
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