by: Dr. Jaspal Singh

Source: South Asia Post: Issue 25 Vol II


Description: few days ago government of Karnataka announced that all the English medium schools in the State be closed or they adopt Kanad as the medium of instruction at the elementary level and introduce English only after five years of schooling in the mother langue as it is being done in the government schools of the State. Naturally the elite of the State raised a huge hue and cry since their wards constitute the majority of the English medium school strength. In fact there is a law in the State that does not allow teaching of any other language at the elementary stage except the mother tongue. Banglore, the capital of the State is a major IT centre in India. Almost all IT operations in the country are conducted in and through the English language. One cannot imagine on IT expert if he or she does not have a sound grounding in English. The vociferous protest by the English medium schools in Karnataka led to another funny decision by the government. As a rethink, the government decided to introduce English along with Kanad from the very beginning in all the schools whether private, public or government.

Such decisions have been taken by other State governments as well including Punjab and Bengal. The result of this ill-conceived experiment is there for everybody to see. The child is learning neither to read and write his own language nor any English. In most of Punjab schools there are special teachers to teach Punjabi. They are called gyanis. Similarly for Hindi and Sanskrit there are special teachers called shashtaries. But strangely there are no trained special English teachers which is an alien language and which requires a greater specialization in the subject.

No doubt, the colonization of the world was the first incarnation of the process of globalization. Apart from being a gigantic economic and political invasion in the 17th and 18th centuries, colonization was a huge lingo-cultural offensive. The natives in many colonized countries of the world were made to suffer an inferiority complex regarding their language and culture by the colonial masters. The elite of these countries was elevated above their barbarian states in direct proportion to their adoption of the language and culture of the mother-country i.e., the ruling colonial power. After the rolling back of the colonial empires, the people of these countries are facing a peculiar linguistic situation. Teaching and learning of English in India which now is one of their 'own' language has become more problematic. At one level the Indians have lost direct touch with the native speakers of English who culturally use the language on the other many localisms have cropped up, that de-universalize the language, depriving it of its original cultural import. The third problem is that of the link language of the second round of globalization sweeping the present day world. If India or any other country for that matter has to play its due role in the modern world, it cannot do without English. One cannot keep pace with the developments in present day science and technology, medicine, jurisprudence, trade and financial technicalities, international relations and geopolitics, if one does not have sound grounding in the global link language i.e., English.

Keeping in view these exigencies the establishments in the non-English speaking countries have to devise a scientific language policy which may take care of both the local and global communication needs. A dynamic global community like the Punjabis cannot overlook this paramount necessity, though there can be a debate over the stage at which it should be introduced in the schools.  Since language is a skill subject, it would be better if the child learns to handle it at an early stage. If the governments are really serious about introducing English at the elementary stage, they must engage teachers specially trained for teaching of English as a foreign language. Most of the present day elementary and high school teachers in government schools in Punjab hardly know anything of English beyond the alphabets.