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Can ‘Make In India’ And ‘Startup India’ Become A Reality Without Basic English Education?

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By Nijam Gara:

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Whether we like it or not, globalisation is here to stay and English is the lingua franca. The Colonial reach of the imperial British Empire of the 19th and 20th centuries that extended across all continents made sure that English rules the lives of people all over the world today. Thus, it is obvious that an English educated population will be the biggest strength of a ‘developing’ country such as India.

So what is the state of affairs concerning English education in India?

A Right to Education bill was passed by the Indian government in 2009. According to the 2014 Annual State of Education Report (ASER-rural), among 200.8 million children in the 6-13 age-group in India, 190.9 million are enrolled in schools (~96% enrollment). Among these, about 31% go to private schools and with the addition of government school kids going to private tuitions, this number shoots up to 50% in several states. The report also highlights that between 2007 and 2013, enrollment in government schools (Class I-VIII) fell from 133.7 million to 121 million while private school enrollment shot up from 51 to 78 million. That is a 77% increase in private school enrollment over 6 years. These figures expose the elephant in the room – it is the penchant for English education even among the poor and rural Indians that is driving the divide between the government and private schools. We all know that there are hardly any private regional language (including Hindi) schools. So why are the government schools in India still predominantly teaching in a medium that the population seems to disown?

Successive governments, even in the post-globalisation era have consciously chosen to ignore the need to catch up with the public’s aspirations when it comes to English education. Though none of the elected representatives and officials would send their kids to non-English schools, they made sure that government schools do not provide kids the ‘right’ to education in English. Then what good is such a ‘right’ in this fast-paced world today? Hapless working-class parents break their backs to send their kids to English schools in the private sector that loot them and yet provide sub-standard education. This is glaringly evident by the fact that only 47% of Class VIII students in the country can read an easy sentence in English. Thus, the poor are cheated twice!

While our leaders are busy thumping their 56-inch chests over issues such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Startup India’ with a narrow focus on financial capital, whose responsibility is it to build the much needed human capital of the country? Can governments wash their hands clean of basic issues such as education and health and leave vast sections of the country to the mercy of the private sector? The irony is that the quintessential capitalist nation of the world, the USA, has a robust public education system at the school level while our embrace of capitalism is only driving our leaders away from investing in our kids’ education. Perhaps our leaders don’t want an English educated citizenry that might then tap into the wealth of knowledge, through sources like the internet, and become unresponsive to the currency notes that they dangle in front of them come election time. Just imagine what an impact Rohith Vemula’s death would have had if only the masses he so passionately loved could understand his painstakingly written indictment of caste in English. The entire country would have erupted, and not just social media and university campuses.

If only our workers and daily-wage labourers were English-educated since their primary schooling, they would not have become victims of human trafficking in the Gulf countries. Better yet they might have had a fair shot at a better life than to a hand-to-mouth existence. Heck, they may have known better than to keep a political dynasty alive for almost 100 years or vote a regime with fascist tendencies into power with an overwhelming majority. While the governments have to take the blame, what about our ‘civil’ society? Thousands march on the streets against corruption but nobody fights for equality of educational opportunity. They all want the abolition of reservations while ignoring the systemic imbalance that forces millions of Dalit, Muslim, tribal and OBC kids to languish in regional language government schools across the country. The ‘civil’ society wants a vast non-English educated ‘underbelly’ so that they have a steady stream of gullible maids, farm hands, vegetable vendors, etc., while their ilk seek greener pastures overseas with the help of their English education!

It is high-time the west-leaning, capitalist-embracing 21st-century government of India adopt universal English education in all state-owned schools. That will then be the single best tool that our country can provide its citizens to fare better in a global ‘village’ – perhaps more powerful than millions doled out in meaningless welfare measures that never reach them. And for all the naysayers out there, this does not necessarily translate into dumping our culture, tradition, etc. Our regional languages can still be taught and promoted through various platforms, just not as primary languages in schools. While the logistics of universalizing English education in government schools will certainly be staggering, that by no means should be a deterrent. As they say, a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.

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  1. Narendra Patel

    This article is an example of the typical misinformation present in India about the importance of the English language in the world today. The author says “English rules the lives of people all over the world”. This is plainly false – think of China, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Iran, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea Indonesia, the Arab world, the Spanish world, and practically every European country. The vast majority of the people in the world do not speak English at all, or live in countries where English even has much of a presence. Many of these people are highly educated in their native languages, and lead fulfilled lives using those languages. There is no demonstrable correlation between English use and economic development. If anything, native languages promote economic development because they allow the speakers to be more productive and efficient in their mother tongue – the language they are best at and most effective at working in. The United Nations has continually asserted that children should have a right to education in their mother tongue wherever possible, because children simply learn better in their mother tongue, and are able to acheive a higher level of understanding and faster rate of knowledge growth in their mother tongue. Nowhere else in the world is there even discussion of replacing local language with English medium education. So why is this the case in India? As was suggested by the author, this is because of the Indian elite's fondness for English as something which sets them apart from the rest of the dirty masses. In order to preserve their own position at the top of Indian society, the elite ensures that all high level jobs and universities require English proficiency, even where (as is most often the case) the job could be done just as effectively in Indian languages. This means that historically it has only been people from this elite club who have been able to get the good jobs. This situation has resulted in Indians wanting their children to learn English so as to get these good English speaking jobs. That is the reason for the rise of the private English medium schools in India. As the author has written, this is clearly an unfair situation, with parents having to pay a premium for the chance for a good future for their offspring. But the solution is not to introduce universal English medium education -this would deprive children of the chance to learn in the most effective way – in their own langauge. And, in time, especially taking into account Indian's fondness for all things western, would result in the loss of our culture – which is just as valuable as western, supposedly “international” culture. With so much exposure to English, the next generation would be unable to express themselves in a meaningful way in their native languages about complicated issues, and also, to give their children the edge in the English medium schools, it is likely that future generations of parents would begin to raise their children as native English speakers which in time would result in the tragic and completely unnecessary extinction of India's beautiful languages. So what is the solution? The solution is the complete opposite of what the author suggests – it is to completely banish English medium education. The constitution should be amended to provide that the medium of education at all levels (primary, secondary, tertiary) and in all systems (government, private, church) should be the official language of the state in which the school is located. Hindi and English should be taught as second languages in non-Hindi speaking states, while English and a regional language should be taught as second languages in the Hindi speaking states. This system would ensure that all Indian school children are given an equal advantage in the job market, while allowing them to have the educational and cultural advantages of learning in their mother tongues. By ensuring that English is still taught, India will not be disadvantaged in a more globalised world. Furthermore, if all candidates for high level jobs were educated in their mother tongues, it would soon become impractical and useless for employers to interview in English, to discriminate based on English proficiency, and to use English in their workplaces. This would likely result in the need to learn English being eliminated as workplaces shift to using Indian languages, leading to the situation present in most advanced economies, where workers are able to use their mother tongues for all aspects of their lives. The benefits to Indian society of such a situation would be phenomenal.

    1. Nijam Gara

      Thank you for taking the time to read the article. Your alternative is too utopian. How do you propose to 'banish' English medium education in 2016 in India? The harping on 'culture' has done no good to generations of dalit and tribal students, has it? Why is there no similar
      harping for the well-to-do kids that can buy English education in the private sector? The overall point of the article is if English is good for the private schools and wealthy kids, then English should be rightfully taught to all kids! Your data about United Nations is well-known but the source of that data is questionable. So you want us to believe that United Nations that is in the pocket of USA has the best interests of our dalit and tribal kids in heart. Thank you but no thank you. If only the world over, kids start learning English from day one, then imagine the plight of all the English-born kids of UK and USA. They are already decrying the rate at which English-speaking immigrants are competing for their jobs on their home turf. You don't suppose the UNO is coming from that perspective? Guess not. Going back to culture and our regional languages, you missed the point in the article where I state that English has to be the medium of instruction but language has to be taught as a language in a proper and much better way to glorify its cultural aspects.

    2. Nijam Gara

      Thank you for taking the time to read the article. Your alternative is too utopian. How do you propose to 'banish' English medium education in 2016 in India? The harping on 'culture' has done no good to generations of dalit and tribal students, has it? Why is there no similar
      harping for the well-to-do kids that can buy English education in the private sector? The overall point of the article is if English is good for the private schools and wealthy kids, then English should be rightfully taught to all kids! Your data about United Nations is well-known but the source of that data is questionable. So you want us to believe that United Nations that is in the pocket of USA has the best interests of our dalit and tribal kids in heart. Thank you but no thank you. If only the world over, kids start learning English from day one, then imagine the plight of all the English-born kids of UK and USA. They are already decrying the rate at which English-speaking immigrants are competing for their jobs on their home turf. You don't suppose the UNO is coming from that perspective? Guess not. Going back to culture and our regional languages, you missed the point in the article where I state that English has to be the medium of instruction but language has to be taught as a language in a proper and much better way to glorify its cultural aspects. Please consider.

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