The Andhra Pradesh government’s proposal to make English the language of instruction in government schools is an idea other states, too, would do well to seriously consider.
The Andhra Pradesh government’s proposal to make English the language of instruction in government schools is an idea other states, too, would do well to seriously consider. The move has received flak from nearly all opposition parties in the state, including TDP, which had proposed a similar move, though on a pilot basis, in one district, when it was in power. Even vice-president Venkaiah Naidu, whose mother tongue is Telugu, has weighed in on the side of the critics. However, as chief minister YS Jagan Reddy has argued, making English the language of instruction from the primary level itself will improve the employability of government school students, largely from poor families, given English proficiency is crucial for a large number of jobs.
Reddy’s poser to critics—on the language of instruction at the schools where their children and grandchildren were enrolled—may have been rhetorical, but it reveals how much premium is placed on English skills in the job market. Given that English remains the medium of instruction in higher education across India, an early foundation in the language will vastly improve the chances of a student completing their education. With most textbooks and reference material being published exclusively in English—higher education in popular destinations like the US or the UK also calls for demonstrated competence in the language—delaying mainlining of the language in government schools makes the poor even more vulnerable as it skews opportunities in favour of students educated in English-medium schools. Data from the ASER 2017 shows that nearly a quarter of the 14-18 year-olds—over 98% of whom had completed elementary education (school education up to the VIII standard)—surveyed in the state (Srikakulam district) couldn’t read an easy sentence in English. ASER 2016 data shows that nearly 30% of Class VIII students in the state who were surveyed couldn’t read simple English sentences and, worse, 20% of those who could read couldn’t tell the meaning of the sentences. Thus, an early foundation in English would perhaps help improve the lot of students who get left behind because of poor comprehension of the language.
The fear of the critics that a switch to English will mean that the regional languages that are now the medium of instruction—Telugu and Urdu—will get neglected is addressed by the fact that, as the state government has clarified, it will be compulsory for students in government schools to learn either of the two languages. Many experts argue that learning outcomes are likely to be better if early learning is conducted in the student’s mother tongue. However, that can’t come at the cost of English learning. The government can come up with regional-language reference texts and teaching aids that help the child have a better grasp on classroom teaching, or even have computer-aided learning aids that the students can be trained to use to negotiate English instruction better. But, keeping English away over the bogeys the critics of the Andhra government are raising will be a retrograde move.