Language coverage in the new National Curriculum Framework 2023


The new National Curriculum Framework 2023 that came out this week has a strong focus on multilingualism. It wants to ensure that, by age 15, students achieve academic proficiency in at least three languages. Multilingualism is seen as a way to enrich the classroom environment and broaden the thinking of the children. Good!

Of course I was particularly interested to see how it deals with the local language. As this new framework came out this week, Upasana and I had a look at what it says about the use of the local language in the classroom.

The National Curriculum Framework 2023 (NCF 2023) was released on the 23rd of August 2023. It has been building on the NCF for Foundations Stages that came out last year. (See our blogpost on the NCF for Foundations Stages from November 2022.) According to the address of K. Kasturirangan, the chairman of the National Steering Committee for National Curriculum Frameworks, this document is the first integrated Curriculum Framework for children between ages 318 in India. The framework is said to come into effect next year and is seen as promoting the learning of Indian languages. For this write-up, we will primarily be looking at the languages section and focussing on what the NCF 2023 means for Multilingual Education in India. Chapter 2, pages 234 to 267, is the portion focussed on languages education.  

NCF recommends the learning of multiple languages including the mother tongue as it results in improved cognitive abilities, cultural awareness and expression, identity, belonging, and an appreciation of cultural identities. “Multiple studies show that individuals knowing many languages not only gain the ability to communicate with a wider range of people, but also develop expanded cognitive abilities” (page 234.) “A multilingual India is thereby better educated and also better nationally integrated” (page 235).


Section 2.4 of the NCF delineates the famous three-language formula to be taught in Indian schools. The first of the three languages is said to be the regional or commonly used local language and is called R1. As quoted in the document, “R1: This is the Language in which literacy is first learnt in school. For this, it is of critical importance to be able to use the language that the student already knows” (page 239). The second language or R2 could be any other language, including English. The third language is called R3, which could be another regional/Indian language. Of these three languages, two have to be native to India. As seen in page 239 of the NCF, “Furthermore, at least two of these three Languages — R1, R2, and R3 — must be native to India.”  (NCF 2023)

Summary Table




Foundational Stage 

(3‒8 years old)

The “language that is most familiar to the student” (R1) is used for teaching.

Children learn two languages (R1 and R2) and are expected to achieve Foundational  Literacy in R1.

Initially, play materials, such as toys, puzzles, and textbooks/ playbooks/ workbooks.

Preparatory Stage

(8‒11 years old)

Since it is in R1 that literacy is first attained, it must be used as the Medium of Instruction (MoI) for other subjects, at least until literacy in another language is attained.

Children continue to  learn two languages (R1 and R2).

“Content can be presented slightly more through textbooks, while concrete materials and experiences still form the core of content presentation.”

Middle Stage

(11‒14 years old)

“A new third Language, R3, is introduced in this Stage. Students acquire familiarity with the  spoken form of this Language, along with the basics of reading and writing. They are expected to read various simple texts with comprehension in R3 by the end of the Middle Stage.”

Children learn three languages (R1, R2 and R3) 

“Well-designed textbooks that reflect the specific goals of the Learning Standards have a very significant role to play in presenting content in easy and comprehensible formats in this journey from concrete to abstract.”

The NCF makes special mention of the Indian Sign Language (ISL) and seeks to be inclusive of hearing-impaired students. “Schools could consider offering ISL as part of their Language curriculum. The Learning Standards for ISL could follow those of R1 or R2 illustrated in this document. All students, even those without hearing impairment, would be given some basic familiarity with ISL and a few of its basic signs.” (Page 241, Box 2.4ii)

The revised NCF 2023 also speaks on other aspects of language learning such as the aim of language education, its challenges in India, pedagogy, and assessment. Section 2.1 states that the main aim of language learning is not only proficiency but also multilingualism which promotes diversity and cognitive development. “Learning Languages enables students to access the understanding, knowledge, and skills available in written or spoken forms in a society. It develops students’ abilities to express ideas and feelings, be creative, think rationally, make well-informed choices, and act on those choices.” (Page 235)

The document also outlines the current challenges faced in language education such as low literacy, low-quality learning materials, inadequate teacher preparation, ineffective pedagogy, focus on completion rather than competency, and a memory-based assessment (rote learning). In terms of pedagogy, effective strategies have been suggested such as including deliberative processes in schools, a balanced approach to literacy, regular practice of oracy and literacy, and sustained exposure to literature. The NCF also advocated that, “Well-resourced libraries are necessary for students across all the Stages”  (page 261), but does not specify that books in local languages should be included (other than an occasional reference to translating books in “all languages” e.g. on page 229).  Finally, in terms of assessment of languages taught and learnt in school, the NCF suggests that assessment should be based on fluency and proficiency, communication ability, and reading and writing skills in various forms.

It is good to see that the newly released NCF is promoting the use of the mother tongue in schools. A lot of good principles are given on how to do that. Still, many challenges will remain at the state, school, and classroom level. The definition given of R1 is “R1 should preferably be the Language most familiar to the students, which would be the mother tongue. If that is not possible because of practical considerations, then it should be the State Language, which would be a familiar Language” (page 239). The key question remains whether, in practice, the state authorities will be able to reach beyond the easy way out – using the state language and really engage with the local languages! We, as civil society organisations, should be ready to promote and support the use of the local languages!



In collaboration with Upasana Lepcha


  1. A pdf of the NCF document: National Curriculum Framework for School Education 2023

  2. Indian Express article: What the revised NCF says on languages taught to students, how school education could change

  3. Jagranjosh article: National Curriculum Framework 2023: Check Revised School Curriculum 

  4. Times of India article: New NCF Guidelines 2023: Two Indian languages required for grades 9-10, one for 11-12 - Times of India 

  5. Photo source: National Curriculum Framework for School Education 2023