Medical education in Odia language, so also in Hindi and other Indian languages, has raised a fresh debate in the country

Bhaskar Parichha

The Government of Odisha has mandated the formation of a committee to determine the necessary resources and timelines for the translation of MBBS textbooks into Odia. Mansh Ranjan Sahoo, Vice-Chancellor of Odisha University of Health Sciences, will lead the committee, with the Registrar of the same university serving as the member convener.

The committee, consisting of 22 members, will assess the scope of work and establish deadlines for the project, as per the directive from the state health department. A report indicates that the committee has been given 15 days to submit its proposal to the state health department.

An order issued by the State Health Department stated, “In view of the mandate to provide medical education in Odia language in the state, a committee has been constituted to examine the matter, identify the essential course books for MBBS education required to be translated into Odia language, and work out timelines and budget requirements for undertaking this task.”

MP First
Madhya Pradesh has taken the lead in introducing Hindi textbooks for medical students, starting with first-year MBBS students. The state government is currently in the process of developing textbooks for the entire medical curriculum. Additionally, there are discussions at the national level to expand the teaching of medicine in regional languages across the country.

The High-Powered Committee for Promotion of Indian Languages, operating under the Ministry of Education, has begun engaging with various stakeholders such as the National Medical Commission (NMC), state medical councils, medical universities, colleges, doctors, and professors to formulate medical syllabi in Hindi and other regional languages. Chamu Krishna Shastry, the chairman of the committee, recently disclosed this information.

Dr. Sudha Seshayyan, the Vice Chancellor of Dr MGR Medical University in Tamil Nadu, is currently in the process of creating a medical terminology glossary in Tamil. The Home Minister, Amit Shah, is scheduled to unveil the nation’s inaugural MBBS syllabus in Hindi for students on October 16th.

The primary objective is to introduce medical textbooks in Hindi and other regional languages. Although instruction in English will persist, students will now have the choice to learn in Hindi and their local language.

The rationale behind this endeavor is that 90 percent of patients are not proficient in English. Moreover, a significant portion of students have been educated in their native language, and transitioning to medical education in English can pose challenges in understanding medical terminology. Moreover, students hailing from rural areas often aspire to serve in their hometowns or villages. Consequently, a workforce can be cultivated to address healthcare needs in rural areas.

However, a critical concern arises regarding whether the quality of textbooks in regional languages will match that of the English versions.

Medical Fraternity
The union government’s proposal to prepare medical text books in regional languages plan has drawn flak from the medical fraternity.

According to Dr Rohan Krishnan, President, FAIMA Doctors Association, it will affect the students adversely. His argument is that, Medical education needs to be at par with international guidelines and bodies and students will get confused and the quality will fall.

Translating medical textbooks is a challenging task that requires the expertise of both language and subject matter specialists. The quality of educational materials for aspiring doctors must not be compromised, as they will be responsible for the well-being of patients.

Textbooks are just one component of medical education, with numerous reference materials, manuals, and protocols also playing a crucial role. For medical professionals studying in Hindi and other Indian languages, pursuing advanced studies and career opportunities may prove to be difficult due to the predominance of English in post-graduate programs, specialized training, and medical research.

It remains to be seen how the current emphasis on Indian languages in medical education will address these challenges.

In addition to textbooks and courseware, the presence of well-trained teachers, examination equipment, and access to multi-lingual research journals is essential. The National Medical Commission and state medical education departments should disclose any plans they have developed on this matter.

Currently, India has approximately 600 medical colleges, and students have the freedom to enroll in colleges located outside their home state. Eliminating the use of English could pose challenges for students seeking such opportunities.

For instance, a student who completed their education in Hindi in Madhya Pradesh may face difficulties pursuing post-graduation studies in a college in Karnataka or Maharashtra, where the medium of instruction will be in the local language.

In unison, wider consultation with all stakeholders, including the student community, too is missing. If textbooks are going to be translated into many Indian languages, technical terms will have to be standardized to ensure compatibility.

Technical Courses
The proponents of teaching technical courses in the mother tongue often refer to Japan as a prime example. Japan’s significant scientific and industrial advancements were largely due to their use of the Japanese language in education.

Osmania University took inspiration from Japan, as evidenced by the fact that Hyderabad’s Director of Public Instruction Syed Ross Masood was sent to study Japan’s technical education model in the 1920s. China, Russia and Germany also have technical courses taught in their respective languages and have developed scientific terminologies over the course of several decades.

The key difference between these countries and India is that they are predominantly homogenous societies, while India is characterized by its multitude of languages and cultures.

There are also plans to introduce courses in Indian languages at the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management as well. Currently, 10 states are in the process of preparing to offer engineering education in regional languages by translating textbooks into Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali, Malayalam, and Gujarati.

In addition to challenges related to terminology and other issues associated with teaching in Indian languages, these engineering programs could potentially diminish India’s competitiveness in critical sectors, especially its advantage in the outsourcing industry. A significant factor that contributed to India’s success in software and IT-enabled services was having an engineering workforce proficient in English.

India must avoid taking any actions that could weaken its position in this market, especially at a time when other nations are advancing rapidly and automation is increasingly replacing routine jobs.

The introduction of medical textbooks in Hindi and other regional languages is being celebrated as a revival and revitalization of the education sector. A true revival would involve the development of fresh and innovative knowledge in Indian languages, as well as the opening up of job prospects for students proficient in Indian languages.

(The author is a senior journalist and columnist. Views expressed are personal.)

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