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In Jan 2022, the Telangana State Cabinet decided to introduce English medium in all government schools in the state from the next academic year 2022-23. The neighboring Andhra Pradesh (A.P.) has already started English Medium in all its state-government run schools this academic-year. This raises the question as to what is happening to Telugu, the state language. Now, Telugu is clearly relegated to the status of second language in the states where it is mainly spoken. In its place English is valued.
Introducing the English-subject (as the second language) from class-1 onwards is not a subject matter of discussion anymore in all states in India. However, to have English as a medium of instruction right from primary education in government-run schools, that cater to the poor and downtrodden, is a drastic step. The states have no such ecosystem. Suppose, a government school child is asked to name ten birds or ten animals or ten flowers or plants, he/she would immediately name in his/her mother-tongue. Because they are in the child’s lexicon, children see the flora-fauna around them and talk in their familiar language i.e. home/regional language. Could they do the same in English? Now, with newly introduced English, they need to relate and learn by heart English words. It is a stress on their mind. Why give them all this trouble at a creative young age?
The National Curriculum Framework (NCF)-2005 rightly states on introduction of English (as the second language and medium of instruction), “English in India is a global language in a multilingual country …The level of introduction of English is now a matter of political response to people’s aspirations rather than an academic or feasibility issue, and people’s choices about the level of its introduction in the curriculum will have to be respected, with the proviso that we do not extend downwards the very system that has failed to deliver”.
The fad for joining in the English Medium of Instruction (EMI)) has come after liberalization of the economy in 1990 to market-forces in the opinion of many. Both in A.P. and Telangana, students aspire to I.T. jobs and parents have a feeling that English language is the enabler for fulfilling these aspirations. No one is denying the importance of English, as a subject to be taught in schools. There are number of people who studied in their mother-tongue occupying the highest positions in India. The present Chief Justice of India (CJI) studied up to college-level in his mother-tongue! Mother-tongue imparts culture, it imparts values, and it brings identity to a person. Then, why not acquire a sound foundation in the mother-tongue at the foundational-level of primary education?
Many well-researched academicians argue against governments promoting primary education in English. The concepts of science and mathematics could be better understood in the mother-tongue, is something indisputable. Many elite and middle-class citizens in Indian society educate their children in English medium, so why a poor man shouldn’t is an argument that defies all logic. It is true that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, but in hindsight, it has to be agreed that what those privileged sections have done was wrong. Gandhi ji said, ‘the English-education-mask has emasculated the English-educated Indian, putting a strain on his nerves and energy. With imitators (of English), no country can rise… The whole nation is emasculated. We can never become a proper Bharat’. Although Gandhiji studied his law-degree in London in English, his primary education was in Gujarati.
Even if a child studies English as a subject (second language) in school, he/she could compete in the wider world, provided his/her English improves. What a student needs to have is an intrinsic motivation to learn the language. This is called language aptitude that leads to language-learning. There are many online tutorials, there are apps to learn English. With all digital technology available, there is no dearth of English. From the internet and T.V. Channels directly one could listen to native speakers speaking. Acquisition of pronunciation, structure and communication in English has become easier than ever before.
The government-run English medium schools are only for name-sake. Most of the private-English-medium schools (barring some convents) are also pseudo-English mediums. By studying in them, students do not become well-equipped in English. In fact, they turn out to be ill-equipped. With no proper teachers for English, what they learn is faulty English, which is a permanent impairment. There is ample research-based evidence to show that a child should first have the primary education in his/her mother-tongue. This is for gaining basic knowledge in their most easily comprehensible mother-tongue/home language. English should be taught as a second language. Whatever knowledge a child gains in the mother-tongue is useful in any other language like English.
The undue prominence and importance given to the English language all these years, is effectively checked by the national policy to promote Indian languages (through multilingualism), after the BJP Govt. came to power at the Center with a massive popular mandate. It is to the credit of this Government at the Centre that the Indian linguistic landscape is being occupied by the national language, Hindi, which is a good sign. According to the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, up to class-v a child should be educated in the mother-tongue/regional language. Since education comes under the concurrent list, state governments are using English Medium as a politically expedient tool to attract people. The coming generations in the New India should be grounded in contemporary knowledge but not by muttering some ‘creolized’ English and losing touch of their original tongues and cultures.