Why public schools must shore up English teaching

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Updated: May 17, 2019 7:28:20 AM

A survey by the Lok Foundation and Oxford University on English speakers in India finds correlations between proficiency and caste, class, and education.

The survey highlights that 12% of the respondents from urban areas could speak English as compared with 3% from rural areas. (Representative image)The survey highlights that 12% of the respondents from urban areas could speak English as compared with 3% from rural areas. (Representative image)

A survey by the Lok Foundation and Oxford University on English speakers in India finds correlations between proficiency and caste, class, and education. The survey highlights that Indians who speak in English better are likely to have higher levels of education, largely belong to the upper castes and be from an economically sound background. Just 6% of respondents could speak English against the 10% reported by Census 2011. The survey highlights that 12% of the respondents from urban areas could speak English as compared with 3% from rural areas. Not only that, 41% of the respondents who were economically better off could speak the language while just 2% of the respondents who are poor could speak it. With regards to education, proficiency increases with educational attainment—sharply so after Class X. Also, upper caste individuals are 3X more likely to speak English than SC/STs.

In a country where a large chunk of the population lives in rural areas and is poor, lack of English skills is thus a serious handicap in higher educational attainment and employment prospects. M Azam, A Chin and N Prakash, in a 2013 article in Economic Development and Cultural Change, a University of Chicago Press journal, point out that, in India, controlling for age, social group, schooling, geography and proxies for abilities, men who speak fluent English earn a 34% higher hourly wage than men who speak no English while men who speak a little English earn 13% higher. Reaching better English speaking levels will need concerted action on improving pedagogy in government schools, where children show lower English comprehension levels than their private school peers. Indeed, a 2012 study by EdCIL, a PSU, and NCERT, found that more than 54% of the teachers in primary schools—where teachers are expected to teach all subjects and are not appointed to teach specifically English—in eight sample states/UTs didn’t report using English often during the English class. This basic lacunae in public education is only a symptom of the larger ills.

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