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English language as medium in government schools

  • Category
    Society
  • Published
    10th Dec, 2019

Recently, the Government of Andhra Pradesh introduced ‘English’ as the medium in schools from Classes I-VI.

Issue

Recently, the Government of Andhra Pradesh introduced ‘English’ as the medium in schools from Classes I-VI. This has pushed us to rethink ideas around mother tongue education, local languages and English as a medium of education to further economic and aspirational goals.

Background

  • Andhra Pradesh government has introduced English as the medium in schools from Classes I-VI, while students are expected to pick one of the two local languages, Telugu or Urdu, as compulsory subjects.
  • Action shall be taken for reviving the English Language Teaching Centers and District English Centers (DECs) and re-locate them in District Institutes for Education and Training (DIETs).
  • According to the state government, 82% of upper caste students study in English medium schools. While this figure is only 2% for ST students and 49% for SCs students.
  • By introducing English as a medium of education, the government aims to fulfil a ‘welfare agenda’ to bring all students at par, and make children ‘industry ready’.
  • State government has signed MoUs with language universities and institutes to train teachers on a wide scale, and has also recruited new teachers for this purpose
  • The government later wants to extend this programme from classes VII-X.
  • The government wishes to transform the education sector in the state and help it emerge as ‘VIDHYANDHRA PRADESH’.

Analysis

History of choice of language in India

  • The English language has survived from being labelled as a scheming, rootless tongue of the oppressor, and served a termination notice after independence, to surviving 70 years of the republic and acquiring an emancipation role.
  • After independence it was the Telugu region that led the demand for linguistic reorganization of Indian states. It had sought unflinching primacy to the regional tongue.
  • The fast unto death of Potti Sriramulu in 1952 had forced Jawaharlal Nehru to constitute the States Reorganisation Commission in 1953.
  • However, in 2014, the Telugu speaking region split into two as Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, owing to cultural differences.

Reasons cited for English-medium education in government schools

  • English is the latest cure for the jobs crisis.
  • English language has become a symbol of progress in current times.
  • Children of affluent people study in English medium, but when it comes to protecting Telugu language and culture, is it only the responsibility of the downtrodden and rural youth. This according to advocates of the decision is
  • Making students ready for employment by 2041.
  • Implications made in government reasoning:
    • Affluence and English are natural allies,
    • English has power to pull the backward out of their backwardness,
    • English is embedded with an egalitarian intent.

A way to revive government teaching jobs

  • With privatization, education does not remain a welfare priority government.
  • The need to rescue government schools is also to save government jobs.
  • When parents start sending children to private English medium schools, then government teachers are left with dwindling students, which will eventually sink the feasibility of running government schools.
  • The latest decision also helps reverse the scare of employment erosion in rural, semi-rural and fringe urban areas.

English - an aspirational appeal

  • English is aspirational. With the job loss fears engulfing governments and the aspirational element in the masses, adopting English appears to be a pragmatic policy.
  • In 2011, a section of Dalits floated the idea of an English goddess.
  • A two-feet tall statue was modelled after the Statue of Liberty and was presented as a symbol of Dalit renaissance.
  • Dalit activists often site Ambedkar’s quote “English was the milk of a lioness and only those who drink it will roar."

Democratising Education

  • English-medium education to their children is a dream for a large number of parents in India.
  • However, a lot of them who often come from disadvantaged sections like SC, ST, OBC and minorities are unable to realize this dream because of poverty.
  • Introduction of English-medium in government schools is a democratising step as it helps the disadvantaged’s access to English education.
  • It has an equalizing effect through reduction of educational inequalities.

Better job opportunities

  • In today’s world it is almost impossible to disagree with the fact that proficiency in English is quintessential to grab better employment opportunities.
  • Private companies test English language skills. Study reports that 90% of employers in India say that English language skills are important for their organization.
    • English figured among the top three skills, along with learning agility and adaptability, which employers look for in India according to the findings of India Skills Report 2019.
  • Also selection to various government sector jobs like Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Staff Selection Committee (SSC) and banking demands proficiency in English language.

Bias in the IT industry

  • A perceptive study concluded that the IT industry is not inclusive. That its workforce comes primarily from middle class, urban and upper caste backgrounds because they possess social capital (of the right kind of English) that firms desire.
  • HR Managers make an implicit association between language and social background, and identify persons coming from small towns with ‘communication problems’ because of their heavy mother tongue influence.

English vs. Hindi debate in South India

  • While there is resistance to imposition of Hindi in South India, English is accepted as it is less threatening with regard to racial and ethnic dominance, and more promising of an economic future.
  • English, by virtue of being a foreign language, has claims to neutrality when it comes to caste and religious violence. That makes it especially attractive to Dalit’s and OBCs.

Lessons from Karnataka

  • Karnataka took the decision to introduce English as a medium in public schools in quasi-rural centres, and other government primary schools.
  • The core reasoning for English medium in Karnataka was on similar lines as for Andhra Pradesh today.
    • State government schools had an enrolment rate less than 10%.
    • of Kannada medium schools had dropped relative to English medium schools.
    • Therefore, to retain government schools, which perform the basic duty of providing access to education, was to make an attractive offer of English medium sections.
  • As per government reports, an encouraging number of students opted for the new English medium sections.

Criticisms

  • Christianity propaganda: According to some critics, the reason for introduction of English is to proselytize the poor of Andhra Pradesh into Christianity.
  • Non-native setting: There are doubts on effectiveness of English being taught in a non-native setting.
  • Types of English: There is also the issue of different versions, slangs, accents etc. of English that may develop. Creation of different types of English may create differing identities among their users.
    • Certain kinds of English come with a cultural capital which opens doors to elite institutions and company, while certain other kinds of English freeze you at a particular point in the social ladder.
  • Benefit of mother tongue: A parallel research asserts greater benefits of local language instruction for children.
    • Some studies suggest that a new language in the early school years, especially one that is not used outside school, can become a barrier to learning.
    • This model suggests the opposite of the Andhra model: local language as the medium with English as compulsory language.
  • Duality: Linguistic researchers argue that if English moves ahead as planned, then there will be some kind of bipolar anguish in the child to speak science, commerce etc. in one language, and emotion, heritage in another.
  • Endangering regional language: Some critics fear that the proposed move would ‘endanger’ Telugu language and increase dropout rates.
    • With introduction of English in such a pervasive way, the idea of linguistic state may itself be threatened.
  • Quality and preparedness issue: Questions are raised for the haste with which the government is bringing this reform without sufficient preparation.
    • Training teachers through short-term language courses would not transform them into teachers for English-medium schools.
    • There are doubts on the quality of resources, and the quality of teacher training that government can impart.

How can fear of endangerment of Telugu (other regional Languages) be addressed?

  • Give more weightage to Telugu subject.
  • Revise syllabus to include Telugu meanings of important concepts from other disciplines.
  • Set minimum marks needed to score in Telugu subject to make students eligible for State government awards.
  • Telugu language development fund should be set up to popularizing the language.
  • Make creative writing in Telugu a compulsory elective in every class to allow children unleash their creative potential in their mother tongue in the formative years which would also help in their overall development.
  • Make Telugu a compulsory subject in every state government exam and consider the marks scored for final selection.

Other schemes of Andhra Pradesh Government

  • AMMA VODI - a scheme that gives a financial assistance of Rs 15k to mothers from BPL families for sending their children to school.
  • NADU-NEDU - a programme for revamping school infrastructure.

Conclusion

While the move to introduce English medium in Andhra government schools has attracted criticism, if implemented well, it could bring transformational changes in the education sector. Given that this move will have not only economic effects, but also cultural and social, government must do thorough research involving researchers and academicians and go ahead with the plan only with sufficient preparation. A pilot study can be conducted to identify the challenges before implementing such schemes on a wider scale.

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