The Guardian Weekly
May 15, 2012
Exodus Reshapes India's Schools
Mandal, an illiterate villager from Bihar, came to India's capital
city nearly three decades ago with a dream to make sure
that, unlike him, his son Umesh would get a proper education.
make that possible, Mandal took up work in a home in the heart
of Delhi, in an area built by the colonial British and popularly
known after its chief planner and architect Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens's
Delhi not only has extensive quarters for household staff attached
to its sprawling government bungalows; it also provides schools
where the families of the poor working for top politicians and
officials can get their children educated.
Mandal's dream has remained unfulfilled. His son Umesh failed
to graduate from his local school, where he was taught in Hindi,
one of India's official languages. Though he finds work intermittently,
he is at present unemployed. As a result, he has moved to a
satellite settlement 50km away.
though, hasn't given up on wanting to educate his progeny
only the language has changed. He has kept back his three grandchildren
a boy and two girls with him in his one-room tenement,
and is now convinced that educating them in a school with English
as the medium of instruction will emancipate his family.
my son Umesh had studied in an English-medium school, our life
would've been different today," said Mandal. "Now
my grandson is doing that, and I'm doing all I can to ensure
my two granddaughters also get admitted to an English-medium
and more across India, parents are forsaking educating their
kids in their mother tongue in favour of English. Despite warnings
from educationists that a child's cognitive development is affected
by early schooling in an unfamiliar language, there has been
an exponential increase during the last decade in English-medium
schools in the country.
latest data compiled by the National University of Education,
Planning and Administration (NUEPA) shows that the number of
children studying in English-medium schools has increased by
a staggering 274% between 2003 and 2011, to over 20 million
village after village you will see signboards for English schools
which are no more than private shops," said Anil Gupta
of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. "They're
capitalising on the huge aspirations of people wanting to improve
themselves economically. The desire for education is no more
two decades of rapid economic growth, landing employment has
also become equated with knowing English, especially due to
the software boom and the expansion of the service sector. Corporates,
though, still complain of poor skills among job seekers.
are lots of schools, but no trained teachers," said Gupta.
"The issue is not of quality going down, but of no quality
to begin with."
it's not just private entrepreneurs who are riding the "educate
your child in English" wave. In response to lobbying from
parents, even provincial governments are abandoning their diehard
commitment to the language of the region and increasingly supporting
English. Votaries of regional tongues are now seen as impractical
language chauvinists, while more informed debate on the importance
of language in child development is lost in the din of politics.
is a good example. Last year the authorities reversed the state's
language policy and announced that even English-medium schools
would get grants. The Catholic church runs a majority of Goa's
government-aided schools, and it switched to English overnight.
Opponents of the move have gone to court, but people dismiss
regional language advocates as hypocrites since contrary to
their public stand, they too send their children to English-medium
politicians basically want to keep us docile and backward,"
said English language activist Savio Lopes. "If my child
is schooled in [Goa's official language] Konkani, how will he
find a job outside the state, when English is the nation's link
argue the real problem is the method of teaching, since a child
can become proficient in English if it is taught properly even
as a second language. India's poorly skilled teachers are a
dilemma only 9% of 730,000 teachers from private and
government schools, for instance, passed a recent national eligibility
the standard of teaching in a regional language school is good,
the difference becomes apparent. "In India, teaching of
languages is generally very outdated, no matter which language,"
said Anita Rampal, professor of education at Delhi University.
"But a study we did in Delhi showed that students who began
learning in Hindi for the first five years in a school that
taught language well showed the ability later to think independently
and write creatively in both Hindi and English."
vice-chancellor R Govinda pointed out that many high achievers,
such as former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, did elementary
schooling in a regional language, and later became proficient
in other languages. Govinda himself went to a Kannada-medium
current perception that English will resolve everything is not
correct," he said. "States should invest more in developing
good English teaching, and evolve a comprehensive language policy."
theorist Rita Kothari pointed out that English and regional
languages contain different "storehouses of knowledge",
both of which are essential for a student. English provides
a wealth of modern ideas and historical understanding. "But
without regional languages, the richness of the landscape will
get flattened," she said.
real challenge is to raise standards in all languages, and produce
good teachers. "The best don't want to teach," said
Paul Gunashekar of the English and Foreign Languages University
in Hyderabad. "In my university, we don't feel the focus
should be on English alone at the expense of the mother tongue
and regional languages."