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  Opinion   Columnists  01 Nov 2022  Dinesh C. Sharma | MBBS in Hindi: What Bhopal can learn from Hyderabad

Dinesh C. Sharma | MBBS in Hindi: What Bhopal can learn from Hyderabad

Published : Nov 2, 2022, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Nov 2, 2022, 12:00 am IST

The logic is that students can better comprehend technical subjects in their mother tongue rather than in English

The Osmania University was the first Indian higher education institution to teach all subjects — from philosophy to medicine — in Urdu when it was founded in 1917. (Representational Image)
 The Osmania University was the first Indian higher education institution to teach all subjects — from philosophy to medicine — in Urdu when it was founded in 1917. (Representational Image)

The decision of the Madhya Pradesh government to introduce Hindi as the medium of instruction in the MBBS course has triggered a debate over the feasibility of teaching technical courses in Indian languages. Union home minister Amit Shah, who launched a set of three medical textbooks in Bhopal last week, announced that engineering courses would also be introduced in Hindi. Textbooks are being translated into different Indian languages. The logic is that students can better comprehend technical subjects in their mother tongue rather than in English. The example of Russia, Germany and Japan is being cited to demonstrate the feasibility of teaching medicine and engineering in languages other than English. Closer home, Osmania University is a pioneer in this regard and has valuable lessons to offer.

The Osmania University was the first Indian higher education institution to teach all subjects — from philosophy to medicine — in Urdu when it was founded in 1917. Sir Akbar Hydari, who was secretary in-charge of the judicial, police and education departments, mooted the idea of a new university in the Urdu medium. In his view, making English the sole vehicle of higher education was a mistake as “most of the time which should be spent on the acquisition of the sciences and arts is spent on the acquisition of the foreign medium”. He gave the example of the English medium Nizam College which admitted 253 students from 1907 to 1914 only 13 of whom could graduate from Madras University.

Hydari suggested Urdu because it was the official language of the State and was understood by a vast majority of the population, besides being an “Aryan language” with “direct kinship with other Indian languages”. Based on Hydari’s appeal, the Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, signed a firman-e-mubarak on the 1st of Rajab which was his birthday. While Urdu was made the medium of instruction, proficiency in English was compulsory for all students. 

In the present context, it would help to see how the idea of teaching in Urdu was implemented. Soon after the university was announced, representative committees were formed to prepare draft curricula and the same were circulated among educational experts in England and India to see if they were in line with contemporary teaching. A bureau of translation and compilation was established for preparing standard textbooks in Urdu. Texts for translation were selected with help from linguists, subject experts and educationists as well members of various faculties (arts, law, science, engineering, medicine and education). For coining suitable technical terms and finding proper Urdu equivalents, the bureau held regular meetings of “committees of technical terms”.

The university council in 1920 decided that international nomenclature should be adopted for branches of medicine and engineering. For the translation of technical texts, scientific terms were divided into three groups — nomenclature, notations and terminology. For scientific nomenclature (like names of various elements and compounds, their symbols etc), transliteration was rendered into Urdu along with the terms of European languages. Terminology and notations were translated and compiled in Urdu with the help of classical and Indian languages like Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Urdu and Hindi.  The methodology adopted in Osmania was similar to what Hyderabad official Syed Ross Masood had seen in Japan. To transplant Western sciences into Japan, the Japanese created equivalents of Western scientific concepts. While some were replaced with existing Japanese words, others were assigned new Japanese words coined deliberately.

Subjects of the books translated at the bureau included all branches of philosophy, history, law, economics, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine and engineering. Copies of translated books were sent to leading university libraries in India, Asia and Europe. By 1946, the bureau had published a total of 356 textbooks on these subjects. In three decades, nearly 100,000 technical terms in all subjects were compiled and incorporated into translated books.

Political and cultural reasons apart, making Urdu the medium of instruction was a well-planned exercise. It was introduced after wide consultation among experts from India and Europe, including Rabindranath Tagore. The curriculum-making was an elaborate exercise and educational experts were involved at every stage. The Nizam’s government made a heavy investment in the translation bureau, hiring of experts, the printing of textbooks, etc.  A proper translation strategy was evolved, keeping in mind the ground realities. The idea was implemented in such a way that students did not get isolated from their peers. Proficiency in the English language was made compulsory so that students could develop requisite communication skills. Osmania stopped teaching in Urdu in 1948 but the learnings from the experiment remain relevant.

Tags: madhya pradesh, mbbs, amit shah, osmania university, sir akbar hydari