India has swung from one end to the other on the the continuance or discontinuance of the English language. In the beginning of the decade of the 1960s, several state governments discontinued burdening their students with compulsory teaching of the English language. After a quarter of a century, their approach started changing. This was the period of decline in education standards in government run schools and mushrooming of private schools. Actually, this decline affected not only school education but other sectors like health too. Services and quality of government departments suffered a decline for various reasons. One of these was deliberate action to vacate education and health sector for entry of private sector.
The framers of Indian constitution had envisaged that the government will be able to provide quality education to all children below the age of 14 years compulsorily. The plan to achieve this mandate was begun well. However, political developments in and outside the country started impacting all plans and programmes.
What began as a socialist duty of the state slowly took to commercialisation. In less than another quarter of a century it became a lucrative business. Education and health have not looked back since.
When a commercial approach prevails, even a haircut can cost a few thousand rupees against Rs. 100/= a cut.
So, while municipal schools in a city like Delhi provide free school education and also distribute free books, copies, dress and mid-day meal, the choice of parents is always good private schools (called Public Schools/ English Medium Schools).
This has led to exodus of children from government schools (municipal and other) in millions but has swelled the numbers in private schools and their mushrooming.
It is the perceived superior quality of education and high proficiency in the spoken English which is supposed to be the reason of this upheaval. It is a questionable thesis.
The most significant of these is the governments’ approach to education, especially primary, middle and secondary education. The fault lies in treating education so lightly that its administration has been given to various authorities from the central government down to the local self government. They decide everything from policy, course content, teachers recruitment, medium of instruction and even text books.
Uniformity is lacking in such an approach. There is confusion whether the medium of instruction should be English, local language or any other language. Those conversant with English insist that it is better to teach through the medium of English, whereas others prescribe local language. One group “opposes” one language and another attacks the other language: nobody is bothered about the quality of education.
It defies logic, how agitations to simply “oppose” one language automatically promote the development or propagation of the other language?
Ultimately, the easiest way out becomes the best option and suddenly one day English is declared to be the medium of instruction in the schools.
If such a policy decision becomes applicable to the whole country, there could hardly be any objection. But when one city or municipal corporation mandates it, children from rest of the city or state or nation suffer unintended consequences.
After all, the decision makers must have found great benefits in prescribing English as the medium of instruction in schools, which will prove discriminatory by others getting instruction through a language other than English. This needs to be analysed with certain precision.
What for these children are being prepared? When the British started teaching English to the Indians, it is claimed that it was to produce “clerks” to work for the empire.
Is it the position with the Delhi municipal corporation introducing English medium in the corporation’s schools? Can they employ as many clerks as these schools will produce annually or they will push them out to get employed outside the municipal corporation’s remit?
What if these children drop out before completing Secondary school? Will they be employed on menial jobs on a daily wage rate? Perhaps, the New India (Delhi being projected to be like London !)needs only English speaking menial workers !
Funnily, even now a worker needs to know English to land a job of a loader or runner in businesses. S/he gets around Rs. 4000 or 5000 a month for his services!
It sounds highly misleading to assume that quality education can not be delivered through the medium of any language other than English.
Imparting proficiency in English language is one thing but making it the medium of instruction is another.
If there is a need to enhance the English language proficiency, so is the case with other languages. Are the government school teachers providing quality language teaching in the language they are teaching?
Language teachers are not taken seriously and other teachers are asked to perform the duties of the language teachers.
The private schools play this game with foreign language teaching, for which they charge extra fees from students but never employ regular faculty.
English language teachers are not available for schools outside city limits in any part of India.
In fact, all highly ambitious programmes of the government have suffered due to non availability of qualified teachers to teach in non-municipal, village or remote area schools in most subjects. The few who render service in these schools are those who reside in nearby areas. That is the reality and must be faced.
Making English the medium of instruction leads only to aggravating the problem of not being able to reach good education to the children uniformly.
The emphasis, therefore, needs to shift to quality of education in all subjects (not only language) so that they don’t create the phobia in the minds of the learners about maths or chemistry or physics etc.
All these subjects can be taught by trained teachers even without the medium being necessarily English.
Those who treat English as a language only make the mistake of separating language from the cultural & social environment of the child. English will always be foreign to them on this count whereas the local language will quicken learning.
Unless children are being prepared for migrating to Europe or America or access higher education, their time and energies should not be wasted on learning English, which can be postponed to later years.
It is easier to learn a foreign language at an age when children have accumulated a treasure of a few thousand words. In India, by the time children reach class VII, they have picked up a large number of words, including approximately 25% of them from the English language through the usage of such words (example: school, college, primary, middle, secondary, book, teacher etc.).
Government would achieve better results if decisions are taken on an all India basis, so that uniformity is maintained and standards are improved. The content of the courses must attract children. They should be able to exchange ideas on the subject with confidence with their peers and boldly ask for answers to their questions from their teachers, parents or mentors.
What is baffling is the unintended divide among the poor that would result from the introduction of English medium teaching in one class leaving others as at present. These schools will produce two kinds of students: those who opt for the English medium and the rest.
At this speed, it might take several decades for the schools to shift to English medium by when virtual class rooms might replace physical ones.
Standards of teaching in these schools have only gone down in the last 6 decades.
If the government finds it difficult to provide the same education to children from poor & rich backgrounds, it may as well hand it over to the private sector to provide education.
Whether the private sector can do justice to everyone is itself doubtful.
The best course of action still remains for the government to own responsibility and provide quality education to all. Presently, it is doing it for some, not to all. Kendriya Vidyalaya (Central School) is the honest approach and healthiest of all schemes and needs to be extended to every habitation in the country. All other layers of administration and delivery of education should be wound up in unison with the state governments.
Required number of teachers of all subjects capable of teaching through the medium of English would need to be first appointed before announcing the change. At no time should teaching be taken lightly, which can be assigned to anybody. Whether class I or VIII, the teacher has to be knowledgeable, trained and up to date. Today children are better informed and want to know more as compared to a few decades ago. Unless the teachers are able to satisfy their quest for knowledge, teaching becomes useless. This is the only difference drawn between government managed and privately run schools- it is the quality of teachers. English alone can never a substitute for it all.