Explained: Promotion of English subject in Gujarat schools and its impact on Gujarati language

One of the reasons for the number of AMC schools going down (from 471 to 464 in 2010-11, to 381 today) is because of the shift to private schools, most of which have English as their medium of instruction. (Representational image)

The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) will be introducing English subject from Class I in the academic session to start from June 2019. The move comes exactly a year from the Gujarat government’s decision last year to make Gujarati compulsory from Class 1 onwards.

Why the push for English?

One of the reasons for the number of AMC schools going down (from 471 to 464 in 2010-11, to 381 today) is because of the shift to private schools, most of which have English as their medium of instruction. Enrolments in AMC schools, however, began dropping since 2007-08, to 1.62 lakh from 1.64 lakh and went further down to 1.5 lakh in 2010-11. An upward trend was reported for a brief two year period in 2011-12 and 2012-13 when it stayed around 1.60 lakh. It has steadily declined ever since, now reaching 1.21 lakh in the session that ended in April 2019.

Alarmed by this declining trend and the pressure to ensure implementation of Right to Education (RTE) Act forced the municipal body to introspect and take corrective measures. Surveys found even the urban poor wanted an English medium education and AMC was forced to focus on English medium schools, for reasons of sheer survival. With the preference for private schools that offer English medium, the shift from government to private schools is widespread across Gujarat. Also, with all major centralised competitive exams taken in English medium, parents prefer to enroll their wards in an English medium school.

How does this impact the mother tongue Gujarati?

The promotion of English has failed Gujarati. Most youths have lost interest in the language, evident in the fact that the number of students who failed their Class X (Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board) exams because they failed in the Gujarati language paper, has gone up from 68,226 students in 2011 to 2.26 lakh students in 2015. This sent alarm bells ringing, causing embarrassment as well to the state government even as the number of students not making it to Class XI because they failed Gujarati, went up to 2.29 lakh students in 2016, registering an increase of over 235.74 per cent within five years (from 2011 to 2016).

Crusaders of the mother tongue, Matrubhasha Abhiyan, an NGO which has eminent Gujarati authors, took up the issue and met Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in 2017 demanding Gujarati be made compulsory from Class 1 to Class 12. In the academic year of 2018-19, the Gujarat government made Gujarati compulsory from Class 1 to class 7 across boards and mediums. Till then, Gujarati was introduced from class 5 in English-medium schools affiliated with the GSHSEB, offered as an optional subject in CBSE schools in classes 5-10. And it was taught as an optional subject in Classes 6-10 in ICSE schools.

However, in 2012, the Gujarat health minister Jaynarayan Vyas had written to the centre (then UPA government) that Gujarat would not adopt to the Medical Council of India’s National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for MBBS if Gujarati was not offered as an optional medium. He had cited how the Civil services exam was conducted in all regional languages, as a case in point as nearly 85 per cent of students had schooled in Gujarati medium.

What happened in other states?

Karnataka under the HD Kumaraswamy government backed by its governor Vajubhai Vala, introduced nearly 1000 English medium government schools in April this year a move that had been opposed by the previous Siddharamaiah government. The reasons were similar to Gujarat- to wean away students from private school and boost career prospects. The move happened inspite of fierce opposition from the pro-Kannada activists. Incidentally, the medium of instruction in all government schools in J&K is English since 2003, while in Assam, an attempt to convert 20 vernacular-medium government schools to English-medium in 2012-13 was scuttled.

While Gujarat is trying to balance out its priorities between the two mediums, the impact would take time to reflect.

Will it impact private schools enrollment?

The AMC schools have already claiming to witness a reverse trend-recording 22,000 students shifting from private to municipal schools over last four years. However, this has not resulted in an increase in its overall enrollment yet.

Moreover, only the stress on English alone cannot be attributed to this reverse trend. As over last five years, the school board is focussing aggressively on infrastructure and use of information technology to compete with private schools.

How have past Gujarat governments handled the subject of English?

After the bifurcation of the state in 1960 from Maharashtra, mainly on linguistic lines, Gujarat government decided to teach English as a compulsory subject from Classes VIII to X. However, schools had freedom to teach English in Classes V to VII outside school hours, for which they were not financially-supported by the government.

The Janata Morcha government in the mid-1970s made the subject mandatory from Class VII. During the tenure of chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, English was re-introduced in Class V, but as an optional subject. In 2001, it was decided to teach it as a compulsory subject from Class V. The announcement was made by the then education minister Anandiben Patel. In 2002-03 when Narendra Modi was CM, the government mooted a proposal to introduce English as a mandatory subject in Class I. However the proposal failed to take off reportedly following opposition from RSS against prioritising a foreign language. However towards the end of his tenure, the Modi government introduced English in Class III instead of Class V.