A parliamentary select committee will soon mull upon if Hindi could be included in a list of 10 priority languages under the proposed second language learning bill that can give children the opportunity to learn a second language in primary and intermediate schools if enacted as a law. 

In early July, a Member’s Bill that would give children the opportunity to learn a second language in primary and intermediate schools had passed its first reading in parliament and is currently under consideration with a select committee. 

The select committee had invited submissions from the members of the public and interest groups in support for the language that they want to be included in the list of 10 priority languages to be available for schools and their communities to choose from as a preferred second language. 

In response to that call out for submission, several prominent Hindi educators, activists, laureates, and media specialists have been collaborating quietly since last month to come up with a submission to include the Hindi language in that list of 10 priority languages. 

Sunita Narayan and Dr Pushpa Wood of Indian Languages & Research Foundation (Bharatiya Bhasha evam Shodh Sansthan) - which was founded in 2018 as the lead training and capability development agency for the promotion of all Indian languages in New Zealand - have been leading the effort by working collaboratively with all prominent Hindi educators and laureates in the country. 

For the uninitiated, there are around 10-12 Hindi language schools (community learning centres) across the length and breadth of the country including an Auckland based High School where the Hindi language is offered as an option in their curriculum and one Hindi language online publication. 

These educators and committed Hindi-activists share a mutual dream of promoting the language not only among the younger generations of the native Hindi speaking migrant communities, but also other wider communities, who appreciate second-language learning as an opportunity for cognitive, social and economic well-being, as well as enhancing cultural competence that is very much in demand in global relationships. 

Speaking to the Indian Weekender, Dr Pushpa Wood said, “We strongly support the proposed Amendment Bill’s intention to strengthen second language learning in primary and intermediate schools.”

“We strongly recommend that the Hindi language is to be classified as one of the 10 Languages in the list of priority languages and have prepared a submission to be presented to the select committee in close cooperation with all our teachers, activists and educators in the country,” Dr Wood added. 

Towards this endeavour of preparing a collective, collaborative submission to the select committee a nation-wide webinar was also organised over the last weekend which witnessed passionate discussions on how to encourage and promote the Hindi language to both, the children of native speakers and beyond. 

Some of the key issues discussed in that webinar were the need for having parents and guardians regularly having discussions around the importance of Hindi language for their children’s overall educational-development, developing competence in delivering Hindi language teaching in schools, along with encouraging parents to have conversations with their children’s respective schools to have the Hindi language included as one of the priority languages for the second language-learning. 

Notably, the bill would require the Ministry of Education to set at least ten national priority languages for schools following public consultation, and require the Crown to support teaching these languages in primary and intermediate schools.

Every school board must, for each primary school it administers, prepare, adopt and maintain a priority language program, and will be required under the proposed bill to not adopt or amend a priority language programme under section 60C without first — consulting with the school community, and having regard to the school community’s views. 

“This is why it is important for parents to have regular conversions with their children’s school community around second language education,” the duo said. 

Earlier, participating in the preparatory webinar last week the High Commissioner of India Muktesh Pardeshi assured of logistical support needed, if any, for bolstering the Hindi-language capabilities in primary and intermediate schools in New Zealand. 

“The Indian High Commission can facilitate support from the Government of India in the form of deputation of Hindi teachers under the bilateral arrangement, provision of Hindi books and teaching aids,” Mr Pardeshi said. 

“A recognition and teaching of Hindi in New Zealand schools will be helpful in giving a boost to education, tourism and people to people links between our two countries. Some exposure of Hindi to the business sector will also be helpful in bringing business communities together,” Mr Pardeshi added. 

The Bill is known as Education (Strengthening Second Language Learning in Primary and Intermediate Schools) Amendment Bill was first introduced in parliament by National MP Nikki Kaye and had recently passed first reading on July 1 and is currently with a parliamentary select committee which is accepting submissions till Wednesday, August 12. National MP Nicola Willis is member in charge of the bill now. 

As per the information available on the parliament’s website about the progress of this Bill, the select committee after delving upon  submissions in support of different languages will come out with a report as early as in January 2021 with a list of languages that make the cut to be included in the list of 10 national priority languages.