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Is our love for Anglophonic education killing the Indian system?

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By Harshmeet Singh

India is perhaps the only nation in the world where people are regarded as ‘knowledgeable’ or ‘unknowledgeable’ based on the language they speak. An English speaking person is invariably regarded as a value addition to the society. It can be argued that thrust for English in our schools is largely a case of ‘schools adhering to the demands of the society’. Is the society to be blamed for our blind love for English that is dismantling our education system or is the education system at fault for pushing for Anglophonic education blindly?

During their 200 year rule over the Indian Territory, the British tried hard to establish English as the primary medium of education in the country. Their main purpose being the requirement of a low paid working class population that can communicate with the Company’s officials. 68 years after the independence, we have established a much more holistic English privileged system as compared to the one the British were trying to setup in India!

India is called the ‘back-end’ office of the world, majorly due to our cost effective service sector. Our aspirations of becoming a ‘knowledge economy’ are largely behind the recent push for English in our education sector. While there is no fault in such thinking, the problem started when we assumed English to be the magic wand that would fix all our problems, from the lack of skill set to rising unemployment. We assumed that ‘English’ will take us to the path of greatness. And boy, were we wrong!

Today, students in a Hindi (or mother tongue) medium school are considered ‘second class’ by the society. Millions of parents belonging to the lower middle and middle income group spend their precious money to send their kids to English medium schools since these schools are considered to be better for no apparent reason! Even states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, which are known to promote their local language by all means, are now giving the students an option to choose English as the medium of instruction in the state run schools. This is aimed at retaining the students in these schools and stopping them from opting for a private English medium school.

The fact that learning is most effective when carried out in child’s mother tongue is no secret. A number of studies, including the ones from UNESCO indicate that children beginning their school in their mother tongue are likely to perform much better than the ones who begin school with other language. The National Curriculum Framework 2005 clearly states that “the schools must follow a 3 language formula. The first language to be taught must be the mother tongue of the child.” NCF 2005 also says that the learning inside the classroom must be linked with the child’s surroundings to provide a better understanding. This ‘linkage’ between the classroom education and everyday life is much better facilitated by teaching the child in his mother tongue.

When our constitution makers made English the official language of the Supreme Court, they didn’t intend to establish the supremacy of English over the other languages. In a country like India which has hundreds of dialects, a common language (apart from the regional languages) was a necessity to bring people from all across the country at a common stage.

Our obsession with English has made sure that most of our students are stranded in between when they finish school. The policy makers need to accept that English can’t fill in for an unskilled professional. Our policies shaping the mass education programs must keep the on ground socio-economic conditions in mind rather than an obsession for English. We must understand that English is just a language; a medium to impart teaching and skills that form the basis of a sound education. Let’s not take away a child’s right to be educated just because he preferred some other language over English.

 

The author is a Freelance writer. This article was written exclusively for NewsGram.

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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

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“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)