Education, formal or informal, has been the privilege of the higher caste and class since time immemorial. After all, how could one forget Ekalavya and Shambuka!
I was not surprised when my helper, the thirty-year-old Maheshwari, a class eight drop out, told me that both her sons insisted on going to an English medium school. The two of them were presently living with their grandparents in a village in Tamil Nadu and studying in a government school. She said, “Akka, they say that they also want to learn to read, write and talk in English, but I cannot afford sending two children to a private school as the fees are beyond my reach.”
There are many parents, like Maheshwari, from the lower strata of society struggling to send their children to private schools with their meager income, hoping that their child will be groomed to become an English-speaking citizen one day!
I feel ashamed and sorry for a situation such as this. There are government schools with amazing infrastructure and qualified staff, but English is an alien language in these precincts. English as a language is undoubtedly a burden left behind by the British on the fragile shoulders of the struggling millions in third world nations. Nevertheless, it is a language that is crucial to connect and progress.
As a teacher and counselor, I have always wondered if quality education is the birth right of only those who belong to privileged classes. Every child (poor or rich) deserves quality education. Unfortunately, this seems like a far-fetched dream in India as of now.
As part of the education initiative of the NGO I’m working for, I have been involved in teaching children at a government school in North Bangalore for the past seven years. The enthusiasm, involvement, and curiosity to learn is the same in all these children. Is it then not criminal to confine intelligence and creativity to only those who can afford it?
The IQ or merit of a child from an unprivileged background is in no way inferior to a child belonging to an elite family. The only difference is that they don’t have the opportunity nor the needed platform to express themselves. In short, social status is the deterrent that thwarts their dreams of aspiring big. It’s a huge barrier for students who are instructed in regional languages to compete with children from English medium schools.
It rather shocked me on the first day at school to see students write their names in Kannada on English textbooks. I strongly believe that the language of every state is its pride and that it must be nurtured, but at the same time, we need to remember that English is the link language which will help students in connecting with the rest of the world.
The aim of any English teaching programme should be to prepare children to be fairly conversant in the language and to be able to communicate with others when they leave school. We are not expecting Shakespearean English, but something which equips them to be accepted as an ‘equal’ in the world outside.
My question to government run schools is “Why do English teachers not take an interest in teaching the language better?” Lack of motivation seems to soar high in these schools. If I’m right, the teachers draw state government salaries. Some even have done certified courses at the British Council! Courses are conducted to improve English speaking skills for teachers. Why then are children not the beneficiaries of such programmes? This persistent problem needs to be tackled astutely with teachers being motivated to teach English in a sincere manner despite the language’s secondary status in a multi-lingual nation like ours.
Many civil society organisations are working towards the realization of “leave no one behind”, by working with government schools, but it is also the duty of governing bodies to ensure that every child from the lowest strata of society is provided the space to be conversant in English. Right To Education is a great way of including children in private schools, but what is the percentage?
Education is the fundamental right of every child as is promised by the 2010 Act, but it does not guarantee ‘quality’ education. The education ministry in every state should seriously consider the option of a well devised Bilingual curriculum, as the human brain is wired to learn a language at an early age. It has cognitive, social, emotional and professional advantages. If the texts are in vernacular languages, then a couple of lessons can be discussed in English helping students to acquire proficiency in both. This small leap forward will make children equal partners in the journey of learning. This will also address the issues of nurturing the heritage of regional languages and providing necessary support to learn a foreign one. Balancing such a situation needs a lot of brainstorming by the Education Ministry and bilingual experts.