Forced by protests from writers and intellectuals, the Karnataka government has gone slow on its proposal to introduce 1,000 English-medium government schools as a pilot project. But the debate over the place of English in the state’s education continues.
Minister of Primary and Secondary Education N Mahesh clarified that there was no proposal to build 1,000 new schools.
Mahesh, who represents BSP in the coalition government, said, “There was a proposal to introduce a section in existing schools, which would teach in English as a medium. It was meant to attract many parents who have moved away from government to private schools (because) even in rural areas, the daily wage-earner also wants English education for his child. This is true of disadvantaged communities…Dalits, especially.”
He added that Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy has “assured protesting members of the Kannada Development Authority (KDA) that he will reconsider it”.
Mahesh also said he is considering introducing spoken English classes in government schools.
Students in state government schools at present learn English from Class V. Earlier this year, a study by the Mysuru-based Grassroots Research and Advocacy Movement (GRAAM) analysed government data to conclude that the number of students in classes I to X in government schools has come down by 9.96 lakh over the last seven years — from 54.5 lakh in 2010-11 to 44.5 lakh in 2017-18.
In the same period, the number of students in private institutions went up by nearly 11 lakh, GRAAM reported.
Krishnamurthy Chamaram, founder-president, Bahujan Vidyarthi Sangh, said, “We are also Kannadigas, but not teaching English at the primary level is something that seriously hampers students from the rural and disadvantaged communities as they grow older.”
He said the demand for English education from class I had been made earlier too but Kannada language activists had shot it down.
KDA chairman S G Siddaramaiah, who met Chief Minister Kumaraswamy to protest this decision, said he is not opposed to English being taught in schools, but of its use as a medium of instruction. “If that happens, Kannada will disappear. There is no doubt…” he said.
Those who oppose English as a medium of instruction in government schools argue that several studies have shown that children learn best in their mother tongue in early years. “That is absolutely true and proven…. children at this age — Grade 1 and below — have an immense capacity to learn multiple languages,” Anurag Behar, CEO of Azim Premji Foundation, said.