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.