Wednesday February 26, 2020
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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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Cameroon Starts a Program to Save Its Native Languages

Here's How Cameroon Plans to Save Disappearing Languages

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Native languages
A teacher writes in Ewondo, one of Cameroon's native languages, at a school in Yaounde. VOA

Cameroon is commemorating International Mother Language Day, February 21, by launching what it calls an ambitious program to save its endangered national languages.

The central African state has over 260 national languages, but only 40 are taught in schools.  Cameroonians speak mostly French and English, which are foreign but official languages and part of an entrenched separatist conflict that has cost about 3,000 lives since 2017.

At the multilingual and inclusive government primary school Yaounde, 150 children between the ages of five and 11 years old learn how to count in Ewondo, a Cameroon national language spoken in the country’s central and southern regions. The students are also taught the national anthem and patriotic songs in Cameroon national languages.

Businessman Emmanuel Mbom, 31 years old, says he is satisfied at the progress made by his six-year old son at the school.

Native languages
Fabienne Freeland, director general of the nongovernmental organization Summer Institute of Linguistics, helps Cameroon in promoting the teaching of its native languages. VOA

“In my situation, my wife and I speak two different languages, native languages so my children try to pick what they can pick,” Mbom said.

Mbom says he is confused about which language to teach his children because his language is Sawa, spoken in the Littoral and Southwest regions of Cameroon, and his wife is from the Northwestern town of Nkambe, where the Limbum language is spoken.

Cameroon’s secretary of state in the ministry of basic education, Asheri Kilo, says she is satisfied with the level of interest the children display at speaking their national language.

“It is very impressive the way the children are taken into learning their languages, and I decided to check how many children are from other regions rather than Yaounde and I figured that there were children from all the 10 regions in Cameroon,” she said.

Cameroon has 260 national languages spoken by an estimated 25 million people in the 10 regions of the country. It is one of the countries the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) classifies as a distinctive cultural density on the linguistic map of the world.

However, the central African state inherited two foreign languages from its French and English colonial masters as official languages, with 80 percent of the population speaking French and 20 percent English.

Fabienne Freeland, director general of the nongovernmental organization Summer Institute of Linguistics that helps Cameroon in promoting the teaching and learning of its national languages, says the official languages have not been effective tools of communication.

“French and English has its limits on development in this country,” Freeland said. “When there was a cholera outbreak in the far north, it is only when the information started coming in Fufulde that people started changing behavior and the cholera was stopped.”

Native languages
Asheri Kilo, secretary of state in Cameroon’s ministry of basic education, is encouraged by students’ interests in learning their native languages. VOA

Cameroon’s national institute of statistics reports that four percent of the central African states’ local languages — including the Mbiame language spoken in the country’s English-speaking Northwest Region and the Ekung language in the South — have disappeared since 1950. Ten percent of the 260 languages are neglected and seven percent are threatened.

Seraphine Ben Boli, who heads the program to promote the use of Cameroon national languages, says a pilot program that is being implemented in the 10 regions of the country to save the remaining mother tongues from disappearing.

She says the ministry of basic or elementary education is experimenting with the teaching of five national languages in 43 schools throughout Cameroon. The languages chosen, for now, are Ewondo, Bassa, Douala, Womala and Fufulde, because of their national popularity. She says apart from the experimental schools, teachers in all educational establishments have received instructions and training to teach Cameroon national languages spoken in the areas where their schools are found.

Boli said Cameroon will decide by 2030 on which of the languages can be used as an official language, added to English and French. She said by so doing, they intend to solve the separatist crisis that has within the past four years claimed at least 3,000 lives just because people are divided as a result of two inherited colonial languages.

Separatists have been fighting to create an English-speaking state out of the French-speaking majority. The separatists say the education, legal system and cultural practices they inherited from their British colonial masters are different from those left by the French, who colonized the French-speaking regions of the country. Cameroon believes by having its own national language as an official language, many of its citizens will feel like Cameroonians, unlike in the past when they considered themselves either French or English.

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UNESCO says it celebrates mother tongue day because it believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies and it is within its mandate for peace that it works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others. (VOA)