Will English help bring the margins into the mainstream?

Andhra Pradesh CM says English will now be the medium of instruction from class I to VI, Telugu will be a compulsory subject

Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy

Defending the decision of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, a votary of Telugu and the Andhra Pradesh Official Language Commission Chairman Yarlagadda Lakshmi Prasad, said that the CM has only fulfilled what he had promised to the people. He was implementing what parents of school-going children had asked for.

The Hindu reported that Mr. Prasad said the government had conceded his demand to make Telugu as one of the subject mandatory in certain Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) schools, which was not the case in the past. “I urged the government to make sure that Telugu is ‘heard’ and ‘seen’,” he said.

While proponents and opponents are now engaged in a duel, YLP has said that he would request the CM to continue Telugu as an option for children who wanted to study in the existing system. Meanwhile, leaders of the AP United Teachers’ Federation have expressed fears that the sudden switch to a foreign language might result in a drop in educational standards, especially in schools in the rural pockets and also may increase the drop-out rate among girl students.

GummaSambasiva Rao, the former head of the Telugu Department in Andhra Loyola College and a prominent literary personality asserted his opposition towards the decision stating that even the Constitution says that mother tongue should be the language of instruction at least at the primary education level.

“Using mother tongue helps a child develop critical thinking and literary skills. Research shows that children learning in mother tongue have a better understanding of the curriculum,” he said citing examples of developed nations like Russia, Japan and China which “have not sacrificed their mother tongue in the name of development. It is a myth that academic excellence is possible only in English language,” he maintained.

The move has found favour with many

In an article for The Wire, KanchaIlaiah Shepherd, a political theorist, social activist and author said that Andhra Pradesh’s new education policy could create lasting structural changes.

Speaking exclusively to Sabrang India he said that he had been vociferously campaigning for English medium instructions in government schools for the past 25 years. Saying that the Andhra Pradesh government has taken a very positive stand by making this decision. He questions the move’s rejection by the Opposition leaders, stating that their own children study in private English medium schools. “Chandrababu Naidu’s children studied in English medium schools and they studied in America. Why is he then resisting the move and depriving the rural public and lower castes of this privilege?” he asked.

He also called Venkaiah Naidu’s objection to the move ‘hypocritical’. He explained, “Prior to Persian and English, Sanskrit was the ruling language, which was availed only by the Brahmins, Baniyas and Kshatriyas and could not be studied by the Shudras and Dalits. When Persian became the ruling language from the early 16th century to the mid-19th century, only the elite Muslims and the elite zamindars could study it for it was taught in private schools in urban areas. When English became the ruling language, it was taught again, only in private sector schools, not in the government sector. Government schools were to teach only in regional languages, which is a deception. Why not English medium to the rural poor, lower castes, Dalits, Adivasis Why shouldn’t they get a chance to become intellectuals, writers, thinkers, rulers, etc?”

He adds, “The hypocrisy of language is a dangerous thing. There is no definition of mother tongue. Today, everyone’s mother tongue is English. The elites from all castes Hindus or Muslims are studying in private schools. Why the disparity against the rural poor and backward classes?”

Professor DilipMandal, a consultant with The Print and the frontrunner in the Bahujan rights movement too backed the move. He told Sabrang India, “English is not just a language. It is also about hierarchy, knowledge production and knowledge creation. Getting knowledge in English is very critical in India and it should be either implemented for everyone or abolished for everyone.”

Answering the resistance against the move citing that speaking in your mother tongue helps in critical thinking, he said, “If this is the case, it should be true for everybody. If it is good for poor kids, it should be good for rich kids. Also, the case is not such that Telugu is being abolished completely or there is any injustice being done to the language. English opens many doors for knowledge and for jobs too. If implemented for everyone, it is a good step towards achieving an equal education policy.”

Sabrang India also spoke with Ruth Manorama, a Dalit women’s rights activist, who spoke in favour of striking the right balance. She said, “In a digital era, in the globalized context, English is a must. That doesn’t mean that the regional languages mustn’t be given any importance. India is a diverse country. Regional languages are important for studying about your own culture and for expression. English could homogenize us and it is necessary for teachers trained well to execute the required knowledge.”

She added, “English opens avenues and opportunities for progress. Regional languages are necessary to keep the diversity of the country intact. Studying English alone may further you away from your culture and identity, hence a combination of the two – English to abolish caste hierarchy, help women get their rightful place in society and do away with inequality; and regional languages to maintain your identity, self-expression and culture is the best way forward.”

Globalization ushered in year ago. Yet, today language remains a key component of society. From the power to affect a child’s psychology, to sustain a caste hierarchy, language has the key to make or break a nation’s future. The reach of education should not be limited to monetary means. It is a fundamental right and it is essential to standardize the medium of instruction on the basis of a global requirement, so that every child gets an equal opportunity at growth.


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