There has been a raging debate in Andhra Pradesh ever since Jaganmohan Reddy declared his Naadu-Nedu education programme. According to the programme, his government is going to start English medium— in all government schools— from primary/ elementary school education onwards from the next academic year.
All government schools in A.P, will have ONLY English medium, with NO vernacular Telugu medium in place, from the coming year. One may wonder, how such a thing could happen in a state full of native Telugu-speaking people! The CM said, the reason for this change is based on the technological advancement in the world and artificial intelligence (AI) etc. To understand the technology, he added, the future generations need English language. This seems to be an alibi than a genuine concern as English Medium itself will not bring a special magic into child’s life.
The Background for English-Craving
For years together in India, the general pattern has been, for children in government schools to be taught in regional language, and for children in private schools to be taught through English. This pattern was envisaged by the British in the 19th century. There is nothing wrong in changing the policies with the changing time. However, in the case of transforming the primary education in government schools (mainly where children are from poorer sections) to English Medium brings in, drawbacks than merits to the system.
A small percentage of the elite Indian population that studied in convent or other standard English medium schools speak English and their children before joining the school learn English at home. Since they hear people speaking English every day, they attend well-equipped to English medium schools. It’s not my case to argue, since poorer sections don’t have such environment, they should not have aspirations to learn English which in their opinion enables to empower them. My limited argument is, the same empowerment could be achieved through learning their primary education in their mother tongue/ regional language with which they are fluent in thought and word and side by side learning good English that benefits them.
From Andhra Pradesh a greatest number of software engineers are produced and are working all over the world, especially in advanced western countries and most of them had their basic education in Telugu. Though one cannot vouch whether their English language is good or bad but it could be easily said that they’re technologically strong. Otherwise, those countries wouldn’t entertain them.
To be Technologically sound, has nothing to do with English
Since the CM stressed on English for learning technology. He should be aware that knowing technology means understanding well the underlying scientific principles (of the technology). Science can be understood best by the child in his mother tongue, when he is in primary school. For, the children (especially the ones who study in government schools) are exposed to and are surrounded by mother tongue speaking people in their environment and it is easy for them to grasp things that are taught in that language. To study them in English is something contrived/artificial. There is no point in gaining knowledge without understanding the concept. What we want here is, knowledge to Children through education, not English language which they can anyhow learn as a subject. As a matter of fact, there are many technology-wizards in the world whose knowledge of English is scant. So, technology and English are two separate entities.
The Poor state of English in English medium schools
One may raise a doubt that in Telangana state, the government schools and government run residential schools have changed to English medium some years ago. Year after year, the children in those schools have been through their Board Examinations in flying colors. How is it possible? The fact of the matter is, ever since the start of English medium in Andhra Pradesh (united), the teachers have not changed their method of teaching in Telugu. Basically, they got used to teaching in Telugu. Though the government conducted training classes for them to teach in English, they didn’t fully change their mode/ method of teaching into English.The concepts that are written in English texts are made easy to the students by teaching in Telugu. Hence, the methodology has not been translated into English. Up to this point, both teacher and children are at home in their mother tongue in teaching-learning process. This kind of dual teaching helped the students to an extent.
Coming to the Examinations part (where they need to write the exam in English), the less said, the better. Most of the students do not know how to construct a sentence in English. There are very many who write in gibberish language. You may wonder how they pass the Board Examinations! The reason for the high pass percentage nowadays is, paper evaluation is made easy. The sentence construction and grammar are not given importance. At no point, the sentence construction and spelling of the word are taken into consideration while correcting answers. The examiners are provided with a key in which relevant words for answers are given. Hence, they search in the maze of the student’s faulty English scripts, for the word they need as an answer to tick. If children’s foundational education is like this, one can wonder what kind of technology or skills they develop through the government’s much-touted English!
In this bleak scenario, private English medium schools are no better. The knowledge of most students in those schools in English is also poor. The working knowledge of English i.e. to answer a few questions when asked, is not sufficient enough to express himself (his thoughts) in English. This mushroom growth of pseudo-English medium schools is cashing in on parental aspirations.
The English-Divide in the Society
The CM of Andhra Pradesh says, when affluent sections in the society can join their children in English medium, why can’t the poor? It’s a valid question. As there is divide between the rich and the poor, there is equally a divide/ gap between the English-knowing and not knowing in India. This divide always persists in our society and there is an opinion that English-speaking have an edge over others. For all these ills, we have our own country’s history. That’s, the English people ruling this country over two-hundred years. The other colonial countries have not had this length of rule.
The higher studies in science and other faculties, invariably need English in India. Only a few students pursue them. So, it is better, the children learn sciences in their mother tongue during their primary education. That leads to ‘spirit of enquiry’ in them. During the British Raj, India could not develop her native sciences. It remained poor. Whatever Charaka and Susruta did, had no follow up. No compilation or encyclopedia of scientific words in India. Whereas, France, Germany and other European countries had their own scientists of repute like Linnaeus, Lamarck, Roentgen, Einstein, Newton et al. Hence, they do not depend on the English language for their scientific advancement. Even neighboring China also has its indigenous scientific repository.
How to get Quality in education?
According to the ASER (Rural) report 2018, only 50.3% of Class V children can read a Class II level text. So, we have a learning poverty. It’s said that the countries which have prioritized in foundational learning have produced a better-quality workforce. This, China and South Korea did, though their primary teaching is in mother tongue. Learning English would not automatically set right the children’s drawbacks in learning the subjects at their level.
If there’s public pressure to introduce English medium in all government schools, it’s okay but there’s no reason for closing a parallel Telugu medium in the entire Andhra Pradesh schools. The children who cannot cope with English medium teaching, should have an option to revert to Telugu medium. In any case, thinking in a foreign language is too great a strain on their minds. The hasty decision to implement English medium in primary school education in government schools will only widen the gap in educational outcomes. So, the government of A.P. should have a comprehensive analysis of the policy before taking the final decision.
YS Jaganmohan Reddy launches Naadu-Nedu education programme