In 2016, only 22.8% of the students in government schools in Uttarakhand could read sentences in English. Just one in two—53.3%—of the students in class 8 could read simple sentences. Given how English has become the lingua franca of white-collared employment, there is also a demand-side push for children learning the language with a reasonable degree of competence. Perhaps with this in mind, the hill state has decided to change the medium of instruction in 18,000 state-government-run schools from Hindi to English, as per a report by The Times of India.
From the next academic year (2018-19), students in Class 1 will be taught all subjects in English. The senior classes will make a gradual shift. The immediate challenge is hiring competent teaching staff for the purpose and/or retraining existing staff to teach in English—a NCERT study shows the teaching of English at the primary level in government schools fell short of the degree of expertise required. A template of 75 simple English sentences has been handed out to schools to begin with. Students will be encouraged to learn and use phrases and sentence like “My apologies!” and “Have a good weekend”.
Uttarakhand is not the only state to have made such a shift. Jammu & Kashmir, too, has many state-government run schools where the medium of instruction is English. Unesco, however, has stressed the importance of mother-tongue based learning in the early years for optimal development. Primary education, it says, must be imparted in a familiar language and the new language should be systematically introduced later. The dilemma will always remain in bilingual medium of instruction. However, there is a need to map job market requirements and tweak education policy accordingly early on.