National Education Policy 2020 “aims to address the many growing developmental imperatives of our country.” A major drawback, however, is the lack of emphasis on promotion of English learning.
The Narendra Modi government denies that English is being ignored. In an interview with Hindustan Times, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said, “Young children learn and grasp non-trivial concepts more quickly in their home language/mother tongue. Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language.”
He went on to assert, “Nowhere the policy talks about shedding the English language, instead it emphasizes on the importance of multilingualism which has great cognitive benefit for young children.”
As we mentioned in the beginning, it is the emphasis that matters; and that is clearly not on English, which is the passport to success. Everybody knows this simple truth — the ruling class and the ruled, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated. But, thanks to the overpowering hypocrisy in public life, all manner of politicians unite to wage their jihad against English — and end up hurting the prospects of teeming millions of India. From socialists and communists to the sanskaris — everybody is opposed to the language that adds a competitive edge to our economy, that affords an opportunity to the children of the poorest to improve their lot, that opens up new vistas for the Indian mind. But the anti-English activists never relent.
So, the RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN) urged the Ministry of Human Resource Development four years ago that the medium of instruction from elementary to higher levels in schools should be the mother tongue.
“Foreign languages should not be offered as an alternative to any Indian language at the school level. English should no longer be mandatory at any level. All research works must be linked to ‘national requirements’ and projects that do not meet this condition should not get UGC scholarships. References that insult Indian culture, tradition, sects, thoughts, eminent personalities and offer wrong explanations must be removed from textbooks at all levels,” The India Express reported on October 20, 2016.
This is a recipe for disaster. The antipathy towards foreign languages implicit in these recommendations is reminiscent of the medieval taboo on sea travel — the taboo that precluded India from becoming a seafaring nation despite having a long coastline, a good location (between the Far East and the West), abundant natural bounties, and the economic prowess that is the product of civilization. The SSUN was not bothered about the baneful effects its recommendations would have on not just education but also on the economy, culture, science, etc.
The most baneful effect of removing English, however, is on the prospects of the poor. It is an indisputable fact that the students passing out from government schools don’t do as well as their counterparts from public and convent schools. There is an economic factor involved here: as a rule, those who send their wards to prestigious schools are better-off than the ones whose children go to government schools. But the more important factor is that the teaching of English begins at a later stage in government schools.
This single fact is responsible for making most of them laggards in the job market and elsewhere. Not many of them are able to overcome this drawback, despite trying very hard. A cottage industry has evolved to fill this lacuna; there are English-speaking classes and courses; but evidently they have not been able to undo the damage done by the self-appointed champions of vernaculars.
It is not that these champions are unaware of the damage caused by their policies. This is the reason that they ensure that their own children do not suffer because of the consequences of their policies. So, the great socialist Mulayam Singh Yadav sent Akhilesh to a military school and then Australia; the venerable communist Jyoti Basu sent Chandan, who grew up a capitalist, to the upper class South Point School. And not a few sanskari luminaries sent their kids to English-medium schools.
The intellectuals advocating the cause of vernaculars are no less hypocritical than politicians. No Hindi writer or journalist sends their children to Hindi-medium schools, nor do they want their children to become Hindi writers or journalists.
The importance of English is recognized by everybody, even the poorest and the unlettered, but not by politicians and a section of opinion makers. This is the reason that the poor send their children to local English-medium schools which charge heavy fees and provide poor learning.
To be fair to the Modi government, it needs to be mentioned that it has not ignored English. The policy document says, “All efforts will be made in preparing high-quality bilingual textbooks and teaching-learning materials for science and mathematics, so that students are enabled to think and speak about the two subjects both in their home language/mother tongue and in English.”
At the same time, however, it has not ignored the retrograde demands of the SSUN. English is not being promoted as it should have been. That is unfortunate.
The author is a freelance journalist. Views expressed are personal.