An ongoing row over the Andhra Pradesh government's bid to convert all government schools into English medium from the next academic year turned personal recently, after Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy aimed barbs at M Venkaiah Naidu and former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu.
"I ask Chandrababu Naidu, sir, in which medium did your son study? In what medium is your grandson going to study? I ask the same to Venkaiah Naidu and cinema actor Pawan Kalyan," Reddy said on Monday at an event to celebrate the birth anniversary of the country's first education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
Venkaiah Naidu had said that the medium of teaching up to Class 10 should be the mother tongue of the student, while Chandrababu Naidu said that taking such a decision without adequate preparation was not correct.
"Our children in poverty should also get educated and flourish. For that, they should study in English medium schools. Today we are competing with the world. Anybody who wants to get a job must learn English. Without English, one cannot compete with the world," Reddy said.
The barbs hurled by Reddy on leaders of rival parties speak of a larger issue " political leaders are often all too eager to portray themselves as protectors of the local language but don't necessarily walk the talk when it comes to their own personal lives.
A report by The Times of India has quoted an educationist as saying a general lack of proper perspective among government officials was a reason for the poor quality of government schools.
The situation is broadly similar in other states as well.
Indeed, former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa had given essentially the same retort as Reddy to her arch-rival M Karunanidhi, who had said in 2014 that education in a non-native language would obstruct learning. The Times of India had quoted Jayalalithaa as saying, "Did Stalin (Karunanidhi's son) admit his children in Tamil-medium schools?... The schools which are administered by his family members do not teach in Tamil medium. The school has an English name."
As this report in Firstpost from June 2019 points out, political parties in Tamil Nadu willfully neglected education standards in state-run schools, pushing parents to opt for English-medium schools. "With the number of English medium students on the rise and enrolment dropping in government schools, 3,000 of the 31,200 schools run by the state are slated for closure this year," the report noted.
A similar controversy erupted roughly a decade ago when the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's campaign against north Indian migrants was at its vitriolic peak. In 2009, MNS MLAs had slapped the Samajwadi Ps Abu Azmi for not taking oath in the Assembly in Marathi. However, a report by The Indian Express then had pointed out that children of eight out of the 13 MLAs that the party had at the time were in English medium schools. Two of these were MLAs who had roughed up Azmi.
At the time, media outlets had also pointed out that MNS chief Raj Thackeray's son had studied in the Bombay Scottish School, and that he chose to study a foreign language instead of Marathi.
Data does suggest that for many people, ensuring an English medium education for their children is important. As per a survey by the Azim Premji Foundation in four states, among parents who preferred to send their children to private schools, English medium education was the second most important reason (18 percent) for their choice. The survey, as reported by Scroll, showed that "teaching and learning" was the most important factor (36 percent) behind the choices of these parents.
With inputs from agencies