On October 16, MBBS curriculum in Hindi was launched in Madhya Pradesh by Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah. This step has unleashed a flurry of discussions with strong opinions in favour as well as against. Through an editorial published in leading dailies, Shri Amit Shah himself put forth relevant and coherent arguments as to the larger implications of this decision, which is probably the first in many steps towards indigenisation of higher education. From a personal perspective, this launch feels like a vindication of sorts, as in a piece published several years ago I had demanded precisely what the Madhya Pradesh Government is seeking to provide now- medical education in indigenous languages. Any disruptive act such as this is bound to invite criticism from the doubting Thomas and have its own share of teething troubles. But when viewed in balance this seems to be a largely beneficial decision as will be explained from the perspective of an individual medical student, the patients and society and lastly Bharat, the nation as a whole.
Let us look at how this move would prove to be a boon for the individual medical student. Former President and one of Bharat’s foremost scientists, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was a strong votary of education in the child’s mother tongue to nurture creativity and innovation. Even UNESCO stresses on the importance of learning in one’s mother tongue as a scientifically sound method of ensuring better performance and educational outcomes. Medical education at its very core is as much about the science of medicine as it is about the art of interacting with the patient in a humane and understanding manner to elicit information about his or her symptoms, to counsel him or her and treat not only the disease but the patient as a whole.
Putting A Stop To Suicides
What we have had till now is a binary where all the theory is in a forced colonial language (English) and practical or real world application in the vernacular languages. If a student would be able to learn the intricacies of medicine in the same language as he or she is expected to practice medicine in, it would surely lead to a better understanding of the subject and a more confident medical professional. Moreover, many students across medical colleges come from a vernacular secondary education background and for them there is an added challenge of coping with teaching in English apart from the already demanding world of a first year MBBS student running from the lecture theatre to dissection hall and lab to library. This creates a feeling of being overwhelmed with difficulties in finding feet in a new setting and is probably one of the reasons why quite a few bright young medicos from humble and/or rural backgrounds have taken the unfortunate step of committing suicide in the past few years.
Empowering Students To Get Into Medical Colleges
MBBS in vernacular languages would level the playing field and empower large sections of our population from the hinterland to compete and find itself at ease in our medical colleges. Thus producing doctors who are more representative and understanding of this country’s immense diversity and able to cater to the varied healthcare related needs of different segments of the society. Also, higher education in vernacular languages would do well to stimulate the creative instincts which are unduly curbed in an alien language and potentially create innovative researchers who can come up with indigenous solutions for indigenous problems.
For patients who travel hundreds of kilometres to a large hospital in the city to seek attention for their loved ones’ health problems, today’s hospitals are nothing short of a labyrinth, navigating which is a nightmare- the prescription and medications in an alien language (English) and the health care provider himself or herself is many a time not comfortable in understanding the problems of the patient. Walking across the campus at AIIMS as an undergraduate, it was a common occurrence to have patients coming with several medications and asking us to verify whether the medications they had got were the same as the ones prescribed by the doctor. It would be a massive relief for the patient if the doctor was able to elicit history confidently in the region’s vernacular, write a prescription in the same and then get medications with labels that had the name and other details in the local script as well. It would empower the patients to play a more active role in taking care of their own health and reduce the hesitation which they might have in sharing their problems with or asking doubts to their healthcare provider.
Starting MBBS in Hindi first also sorts out the employability challenge as knowledge of Hindi shall render the graduate eligible for practice in large swathes of Northern and North Western India
It is frequently seen that while counselling patients about the nature of the disease or prognosis, quite a few English terms creep into the conversation from the doctor’s side which the patient finds difficult to understand, but also hesitates to interrupt the doctor and ask for clarifications. If the medical education itself were to be in the vernacular, the doctors would be comfortable using even the medical terms in vernacular languages and thereby connect better with the patients.
Ensure MBBS Pass Outs Serve Bharat
As a nation Bharat is plagued by the unfortunate conundrum of ‘brain drain’ where its best minds, chose to leave the nation and offer their services elsewhere. While those opposed to MBBS in Hindi state that this would restrict emigration opportunities for the MBBS graduates, I see it as one of the important collateral benefits which would ensure more and more MBBS pass outs serve Bharat Mata. Moreover, as mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, once MBBS is offered in vernacular languages, more and more people from humble backgrounds and belonging to the hinterland would obtain medical education and then go on to serve these hitherto deprived areas with a better understanding of the health care needs of the population. Many countries like China and Germany already offer medical teaching in their own languages and there is no reason why the world’s largest democracy and fifth largest economy should continue to reel under the effects of the colonial hangover. If versions of medical textbooks are available in languages hardly spoken by a few lakh people like Croatian and Vietnamese, it is high time we begin asking why not Hindi or Bengali or Tamil? Moreover, higher education in a foreign language produces an elite and intellectual class which is cut off from its roots and is desperate to seek validation from the white man. Medical education in an indigenous language (say Hindi) would make the students not only intellectual but also wiser to the challenges faced by their brethren across the length and breadth of the country and ensure they stay in sync with the national conscience.
This is not to say that this path-breaking experiment does not have lacunae which need to be filled before a larger roll out. First is the problem of quality control when making available textbooks and other resources in Hindi (or other local languages). Much of the research publications are in English and today’s medical professionals need to stay abreast of the latest developments in the field and keep themselves updated to remain relevant. Some would also argue that many of the medical terms have no equivalents in our indigenous languages. Moreover, introducing something in Hindi is bound to fray tempers in some of the non-Hindi speaking States which view every such attempt as Hindi imposition. Also, employability of medical graduates educated in the language of one state in other states could bring its own set of problems.
Scientific Lexicon Based on Sanskrit
While accepting that these and many other unforeseen challenges do need to be addressed before this pilot project is replicated elsewhere, it is not to say that these are unsurmountable. As far as arranging textbooks and other study material is concerned, it would be prudent to appoint a co-ordination committee with representatives from the medical fraternity as well as experts of language (both English and vernacular) with a two-step mandate- to let most of the scientific nomenclature be in English for now (as in Pectoralis major simply transliterates to पेक्टोरालिस मेजर), but in the longer run also find ways to develop a full-fledged scientific lexicon based on Sanskrit (which is one of the most dynamic and adaptable languages). A similar two step approach can be to keep specialisation and super specialisation in English for now and with time as Hindi or other regional languages establish themselves till a critical depth at graduate level, to absorb the higher educational qualifications as well into the indigenous ecosystem.
Bridging The Gap
As far as research is concerned, China which teaches medicine in Mandarin is far ahead of us in impactful research and publishes its findings in Mandarin and so do many European countries in their own language. Web and AI-based translation shall bridge the gap in case the Hindi (or other vernacular) MBBS passouts need to access research articles in some foreign language. As far as fears of Hindi displacing regional languages are concerned, we only need to drive home the point that if Hindi will replace anything, it shall be English and the colonial mind-set, while every regional language shall remain as respected as always.
While those opposed to MBBS in Hindi state that this would restrict emigration opportunities for the MBBS graduates, I see it as one of the important collateral benefits which would ensure more and more MBBS pass outs serve Bharat Mata
Starting MBBS in Hindi first also sorts out the employability challenge as knowledge of Hindi shall render the graduate eligible for practice in large swathes of Northern and North Western India. Once higher education in Hindi reaches a certain critical mass, it shall have a domino effect with options in other languages being available as well (just like the success of Bollywood prompted similar film industries in a range of regional languages).
Launching MBBS in Hindi is one of the most exciting educational reforms taken up in recent times and I pray for the success of this daring endeavour, which to paraphrase Neil Armstrong ‘is one small step for medical education but (hopefully) a giant leap for indigenisation.’