In the early 90s, when my parents were finalising my first school and were factoring in multiple concerns, such as budgeting my school fees, distance from home, their first and foremost criteria for selection had to be the ability to impart perfect spoken English knowledge to their child.
Hence, a Convent education, though slightly expensive, was considered over and above everything. This trend continued till 2005 when my second cousin sister was also enrolled in a convent school, bearing in mind the similar advantages.
The aspirational middle class, hard-working parents were willing to put their heart and soul in raising a child who would not only excel academically but also be a great communicator at any given global platform.
Indians, who have emerged as global leaders across industries, like Indra Nooyi, Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, have shown their comfort with the English language and used it to connect across to a global workforce.
Recently announced, The National Education Policy’s plan to introduce teaching and learning in the mother tongue came with arguments from both sides, with one of the sides strongly arguing that it de-emphasizes the value of English as a language, which was, till now, considered to be a language of ‘accomplishment’ for the aspirational middle class.
But, does that make the language less appealing to a generation waiting to join the workforce or to a generation that has joined corporate offices but wants to make it to the best companies and institutes abroad? According to me, not really!
According to a BBC report, India now claims to be the world’s second-largest English-speaking country. The most reliable estimate is around 10% of its population or 125 million people, second only to the USA, and expected to quadruple in the next decade.
The NEP comes at a point when affordable internet connectivity, leading to an ushered growth of mobile phones across various income groups, has fuelled the app economy in the country. The Indian market is flooded with English learning apps, which have witnessed exponential growth, clearly hinting that Indians still want to learn the language by any means.
NEP’s move paves the way for the future generations to master their academic basics and, alongside, find routes to learn English through the multiple channels opened by the app economy.
The move comes as an opportunity to upskill the next generation with the knowledge required to attain jobs that probably don’t even exist now, but might emerge in another ten years. But it also compels the same generation to look at opportunities online to master the English language, which today is not restricted to an English-medium school.
The apps that help one learn English are used by various mentorship programs at a grassroots level, one of which I was personally a part of.
In one of my own experiences, a mentee told me, “Ma’am I want to become a lawyer, but I also want to be proficient with the English language to communicate better with the world outside my village.” This is the amalgamation that is required, and if education policies and public policy programs can achieve it, we probably won’t be staring at declining job opportunities and stories of poor upskilling.
Note: The author currently works with a content aggregation app.