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Happy Dussehra and Diwali to all Readers.          October 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:June' 2019


A new debate over English
medium in government schools

Mamtha Sharma

H D Kumaraswamy Last year, when six year - old Abhiyaan’s parents heard that their child could learn English in the neighbouring government school, they were, predictably, excited. As were the many residents from the comparatively poor economic background in the IT capital, villages and districts across the state. The expectations of these parents, and children alike , were understandable . The then chief minister H D Kumaraswamy ‘s government had decided to introduce English medium in government primary schools.

Earlier, many parents , in general, had watched with concern as their children , after getting a good education in government schools , failed or faltered while speaking or understanding English, even after going to college. The argument was that they were largely educated in their mother tongue with little scope of learning and speaking in English.

Consequently, in several cases, despite their fluency and knowledge in their subjects concerned , invariably the well paying jobs in the burgeoning information technology and allied sectors ,eluded the youngsters. As Latha,a slum dweller in Bengaluru, noted, even after doing B Com, her brothers could not get a decent job as they were not fluent or well versed in English. Sharda, her neighbour, agreed with her , adding that today without English it was difficult to work even on computers.

Not surprising, therefore, to see that after the introduction of the new system , the government primary school in Alur taluk,for example , saw the number of students going up from 45 to 200 . In fact, according to a recent government report, the demand for such schools in over 500 government schools had soared.

The Department of Public Instruction ,for instance , noted that till the time of writing over 26,443 students had enrolled in English medium sections against 12,304 in the local language. Importantly, the figures in the IT capital appeared more encouraging in Bengaluru where over 1700 students reportedly sought admission in English medium schools run by the government. This is not all. Following pressure from parents and children alike, some schools in the state even sought permission to open additional sections.

No wonder that a section of the parents expressed happiness with the Kumaraswamy government’s move . Local newspapers even quoted them as saying that the move would improve the strength of students in government schools in addition to providing the much needed confidence to their wards.

Available government data indicates that majority of the government schools, where the system was initiated, saw a s surge in applications for English medium sections. The response, predictably, would have pleased Kumaraswamy immensely as he had gone against the wishes of many leading Kannada writers and critics who believed that his move would lead to the relegation of Kannada.

While the critics may have been right in expressing their apprehension that the government’s initiative would impact the progress of Kannada, Kumaraswamy and his officials believed otherwise. According to them , it would the move will attract many parents to choose government schools .The government, he argued, had data which showed that many children had moved to private schools even in rural areas.

“ Look at it this way, even a daily wage earner today wants to provide English education for his child. He may not be able to afford a private school, so here is the opportunity. Many communities are disadvantaged because of this, especially the Dalits,” he said. No wonder then that he was determined to implement the scheme. He had even announced that 1000 English-medium schools would be carved out from the over 35,000Kannada-medium government and aided schools in the state.

H D Revanna The then chief minister’s brother, H D Revanna, went further to add that when “my children can study English , Kumaraswamy’s children can study English, then why should the children of poor people not get the same opportunity.”
All this, of course, was fine till the coalition government fell this July. Now, following the emergence of the BJP as the ruling power in the state, the process, government officials told Power Politics, appeared to have slowed down, even if not stopped.
This, perhaps, obviously provided the much-needed opportunity to the critics of Kumaraswamy’s initiative to mount renewed pressure on the Yediyurappa government now to scrap the newly introduced system. A delegation of renowned Kannada scholars and writers apprised the chief minister about the danger that the new scheme posed to the local language while urging him to scrap it.

Scholars like Chidanand Murthy, writers Doddarange Gowda and Go Ru Channabasappa, for example, while reiterating that they were not against English ,per se, argued that it should not be retained as the medium of instruction as it could lead to the decline in Kannada teaching schools. The intellectuals even urged the chief minister to ensure that Kannada was introduced as the medium of instruction in private schools.

Channabasappa,for one, went on to underline the need for a law which would make it difficult to change the medium of instruction for Classes 1 to 7. According to him, every government took differing decisions, something that could not be allowed in the education sector.

The fears of these scholars and writers, incidentally, were not misplaced,going by available data which showed that over time , Kannada schools were slowly losing ground. Significantly, a section of the writers ,it is believed ,are not averse to English being taught as a subject in primary schools while keeping Kannada as the medium of instruction.

In this context, the recent report of the Group of Secretaries, set up by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, assumes importance. It is learnt to have underlined the need for teaching English in government schools , right from beginning itself. The argument in this context is that people from poorer sections of society felt that English was the avenue for better life and wanted government schools to teach the language from the primary level itself.

The report also referred to the aspirations of economically backward parents who could not send their children to English medium private schools. Accordingly ,as government schools did not teach English from the beginning, these students,went the refrain, were deprived of the opportunity to learn or speak in English.

BS Yeddyurappa Significantly, the growing demand for English medium education in governmentrun schools has not come as a surprise even if it has become more of a sociopolitical issue now. This,despite the fact that experts in education have maintained that while learning more languages is comparatively easy for children when they are young, the mother tongue remains the best medium of instruction.
Witness, therefore, the emphasis on using the mother tongue in primary schools for teaching in many states ,at least till the primary level, while leaving the option of instruction , in other languages, open.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding the concerns expressed by the Kannada writers and academicians, the demand for admission to government with English medium has been increasing with children and parents alike buoyed by the available experience.

They are, however, concerned about the determined move by the Kannada proponents to bring about a change in the new system , even as they fully support the need for using Kannada for teaching. Not surprising ,therefore, to find Chikkanna ,a gardener, who has enrolled his son under the new system hoping that the government would give equal emphasis to teaching English in Kannada medium schools as well,to keep the balance.

Having seen his child learn English with the help of the trained teachers in the English medium government primary schools, even if via a pilot project, he does not want any change in the on going arrangement for his ward now.

For the Yediyurappa government though , the controversy could not have come at a more difficult time as it struggles to strike a balance between the critics of the system and the positive response of the parents on the initiative of the Kumaraswamy government. That too in a state which has been marred by language chauvinism for years.