The Role of English Education in India by Annapoorni Balan SignUp
The Role of English Education in India
Prof. Annapoorni Balan Bookmark and Share

“Development can be seen, as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.” -- Amartya Sen

If the fundamental purpose of the education is intellectual, moral and human development than tools plays significant role in attaining objectives. Tool in this particular sense is the medium of instruction which means in which language the education system operates. Based on that one can imagine the amount of intellectual, moral and human development one can acquire. Famous English writer McCrum envisaged that “Whatever the total, English at the end of the 20th century is more widely scattered more widely spoken and written than any other language has ever been. It has become the language of the planet, the first truly global language.”

Today if we look at the statistics about English language one can see the significance of English. Indeed, more than half of the planet’s scientific and technical periodicals are in English, nearly eighty percent of the information stored in computers is in English, seventy five percent of the world’s mail, telexes and cables are in English.  Most importantly, in a knowledge economy, English language has become a global language for business transactions and ideological discourses.

In ancient times, animal wealth had been considered as property, later land replaced it and after the industrial revolution liquid cash and gold has been ruled for all most two centuries, for the last three to four decades, information is being considered as property. In fact, it is indisputable fact that those who hold property control everything. Like knowledge is power in earlier days, now information is being considered as power. If the world’s information is being stored and being communicated with a language called English, how can one deny that English language should not be taught for kids in schools?

In this regard Indian historian Ramchandra Guha observed that “The decline of West Bengal as a center of science and scholarship is not unconnected to the equally misguided decision to ban English-teaching in the state-run schools of the province.”

 Bengal was the economic and intellectual leader of India till early 1970s after banning English teaching in primary schools caused its decline rapidly. When it comes to India, unlike many other countries, does not have actually its own national language. India is a country with hundreds of regional vernaculars. Even after 60 years of Independence English remains the language of higher education in elite institutions, national media, the upper judiciary, bureaucracy and corporate businesses. Indeed, less than ten percent of the total population can speak substantial English among twelve hundred million population. Hence, this country is truly deprived of linked language for so long for national integration.

Facts and figures are saying that those who are proficient in English in their primary level education are getting seats in world class premier institutions, enjoying world class living standards and becoming world class business leaders etc. Those who could not study English medium in their primary levels are struggling lifelong in terms of proficiency of English and conference in speaking about his/her topic in classroom or seminars without any shy. Usually, in India, first generation English learners have been facing this kind of typical problems because they think and feel in their maternal language but need to use English in their professional world which is very difficult in practice despite being spent thousands of rupees for spoken English Institutes across the country where the fee is some times higher than that of his/her professional courses. Ironically, in India, government has been maintaining double standards since independence in teaching English in primary levels. Because, India’s unofficially official language has been in English for its Government Orders and Bureaucracy use only this language for communication. More importantly, our court verdicts are coming in English. National media is completely maintaining English language for journalism. Perhaps this could be the reason why first generation English language learners are struggling to enter into elite institutes like Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), Indian Institute of Management (IIMs), National Institute of Technology (NITs) and Central University (CUs). Even if they enter these institutes their sustainability remains no guarantee. Keeping aware of this fact, low income poor families in rural India are sending their children to the expensive English medium private institutes. Because, there are no state-run government English medium schools in several states even today.

Perhaps, practical experience of these low income rural families might have taught them English medium is required for their children’s intellectual, moral and human development.

Question of Integrity

It is widely observed that our policy makers regularly maintaining their double standards in their decisions for the public and their actions for their personal life. Recently Andhra Pradesh Government on the occasion of world Telugu conference, have issued an order that since class one to higher level education must be taught in Telugu language only because of the fact that Policy makers might have felt that original thought, genuine intellectual ideas comes only in their mother tongue.

 Therefore, teaching and learning should be done in their mother tongue. In fact, in their order, they ignore the private schools coincidentally by not mentioning about the compulsory Telugu teaching. It is witnessed that this kind of discriminatory policies are causing low income rural and semi urban families forcefully sending their children to private English medium school. Indeed, ironically, the same policy makers who argued and initiated this kind of policies are sending their own children to the English medium convent schools. The concept of original thought and value of mother tongue all these things remains a big unresolved question.

For instance, if the aim of the education is moral, intellectual and human development, then let us discuss each one individually in the present context in India. If a person completed his/her primary education in his mother tongue and could not be able to continue higher studies due to several reasons is considered as capable enough in moral education? In fact, primary education in India actually means a person who is capable enough to read sign boards, able to write his/her own name in mother tongue, able to read postal letters that to in mother tongue only and even it is very difficult for him/her to read wedding invitation cards properly because there are some Sanskrit words involved in it. However remaining things such as basic mathematical calculations, simple science, biology and local political economy are like a dream for him/her to understand. If the reality is like this how come people who are handicapped of all the essential qualities can develop moral education? Actually, the concept of moral education is something related to broader understanding of certain issues in societies.  Say for instance, B. R. Ambedkar who was an architect of Indian constitution and widely considered as father of modern India.

Had he not learned global language called English, he would not have gone abroad and had he not gone abroad, he would not have become a moral man for millions of neglected communities in India for centuries. In this regard Ramachandra Guha rightly observed that ‘Ambedkar knew his Tukaram, but also his John Stuart Mill.’ Actually, one needs to have broader understanding to understand the historical social, political and cultural problems and one must be aware of the solutions for them.

Let us take the second one intellectual development in a country like India where majority of the population either illiterate are semi-literate but not higher educated. Even if they studied higher education most of them are studied in regional medium vernaculars. But one needs global language to expand his/her intellectual ability. One can write extensively about many things which are worth reading and discussing but if it was written in regional languages say for instance in Telugu, his/her expansion of audience confined only to particular state or province. In other words, his/her books and articles would be confined to that particular province state. So obviously his/her sharing and receiving knowledge would be limited. So many local indigenous intellectuals remained unrecognized globally because of the deprivation of global. For instance, regional Intellectuals like Sadanand Moor who hailed from Maharashtra wrote extensively about politics of western India but unfortunately his books and columns were written in local Marathi language.

In the words of Ramachandra Guha “Had he written in English, he might have been considered the Partha Chatterjee of Maharashtra?” There are perhaps hundreds and thousands of Sadananda Moors in India who are actually waiting for global recognition simply because they are deprived of global language which is essential to expand their original thoughts are remained unrecognized in global platform. This is perhaps one side of the coin; another side is organic intellectuals whose background is semi-urban mostly rural background. They mostly come from productive communities, usually, they possess original ideas or thoughts from their own experiences, and they are minimally educated. So, they cannot express these ideas in global platforms never documented these things in global language. Finally, lack of global language, their intellectual contribution is remained unrecognized in global platforms.

Indeed, it is difficult for one to have an intellectual clarity when one is skeptical about his/her language clarity throughout his life. Therefore, historically neglected and discriminated communities like Dalit bahujans (Historically depressed communities) in India asking/demand/fighting for English Language should be made as a national language and should be taught in all government schools right from primary to higher level for their moral, intellectual and human development. In this regard, Dalits have gone to such an extent that in Uttar Pradesh, they build a temple for Goddess of English Language and started worshiping it.

According to them this Goddess is the symbol of Dalit renaissance and it is this English language goddess which they believe will help them climb up the social and economic ladder. Therefore, Dalits in India today tries to capture intellectual space next to Brahmins only because they have realized that unless they study English education they cannot survive in this highly hierarchical society. Those who ignored this social reality are lagging behind in terms of their socio-economic and educational development.

As Ambedkar predicted that social conscious is the only safeguard of all the rights, fundamental or non-fundamental in order to get the master key in which he meant political power through which one can open all the doors of progress. This conscious is perhaps possible in present context in India through Education that to Higher education because we don’t teach revolutions, social movements in primary level which in fact is essential for neglected communities for their progress.

Now let us see about human development which is most significant in various dimensions. Welfare state is generally meant for people’s welfare for their development through its public policies. Ironically since independence, it was education sector both primary and higher which was neglected more than anything else. Consequently, most our public policies are not getting succeeded due to lack of social awareness due to lack of substantial education. In other words, since beginning, huge number of public policies have and gone but poor people in India have remained poor. Even after two decades of liberalization, still India a land of large number of poor and illiterates and semi-literates. Although, there is very limited scope in achieving human development in primary education in present context because most of the states in India teach primary education in their maternal language which in fact is not suit for getting opportunities in a knowledge economy. In fact, our policy makers often forget that official promotion of any language succeeds only when competence in the language concerned leads to job or other opportunities. Therefore, these days in India, English educated Dalit writers emphasizing that unless English speaking Dalits take up the Dalit movement as their profession, a pan-Indian Dalit movement will remain a dream.

In other words, at the movement, people from neglected communities are getting realized that only global language can give their children a better life in multiple dimensions. For, instance, if they get English Education obviously they can get decent jobs which protects their dignity not only for him/her but their family and kin as well. Due to government discriminative policies towards quality and substantive education, people from low income families are spending major budget from their incomes to private spoken English coaching centers. In the name of preserving culture and heritage, and protecting linguistic ecology, governments both state and central are afraid of set up English medium public schools.

Consequently, most of the students from neglected communities are being scapegoats between cultures and quality of life. It is quite clear that at this movement, Indian primary education system have number of limitations. For instance, those who study vernacular language cannot compete in the age of globalization, one cannot perceive higher studies not only India but in the world, difficult to explore new cultures and civilizations, very limited job opportunities sometimes no opportunity at all due to lack of global language in a knowledge economy, highly difficult in doing business with multinational corporations, difficult to enter in high bureaucracy, national and international media, most importantly, in the age of web, in near future, formal schools may not survive so long, therefore, In India, if a person cannot continue his formal education for unavoidable reasons he must go through either online or mobile education but all this web education is taking place in English only. It is highly difficult for a regional medium student with his literate background to adapt this change which is constant.

As a result he remains a looser in the era of globalization. Hence, unless, people obtain substantive education (acquire some sort of minimum capabilities) our public policies like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Right to Information and newly introduced Scheme of Cash transfers to the poor people’s bank accounts for their well-being will remain unsuccessful.

Thus, large population with limited resources countries like India, where medium determines everything in people’s social, political, cultural and psychological life in general and economic life in particular. Global language is essential since from the beginning as capability for their people acquire power, pride, privilege, prestige, pleasure, world views, confidence, doors to higher education, opportunities for employment, security, comfort, rational identity quality of life ultimately for their well-being.

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