In Karnataka, teachers are resisting a move to cut years of English-learning at the undergraduate level from the current three years to one, citing the impact on employability of students.
One would have thought the Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to make English the medium of instruction for all undergraduate courses (save, of course, the language subjects) would have been welcomed. On the contrary, critics contend this would leave many students, especially from the rural areas and from economically weaker sections who are likely to have been educated in Telugu medium schools thus far, seriously disadvantaged. Forcing such students to shift to English so late in their academic pursuit, critics fear, may cause sub-optimal learning vis-a-vis the students’ actual competence and aptitude.
Given the quick gains from language-politics polemics, opposition parties, including the BJP, have sought to position the decision as an attack on Telugu culture also. However, the bare facts are that the language of instruction in post-graduate courses is English, and the state government has maintained that Telugu will remain a compulsory subject at the school level so that students get to learn the language. Indeed, the late-shift argument against the decision seems counter-intuitive, since continuing with Telugu as the medium of instruction at the UG level would further delay the shift for a set of students; it would be tantamount to indirect gate-keeping of PG education. Also important, the set of students from a Telugu-medium background who opted for the same medium at the UG level in 2020-21 was merely a quarter of the pool that joined degree courses, and the state government says the larger share of Telugu-medium students entering UG courses have themselves opted for English instruction.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 argues for teaching in a child’s mother in the early years; wherever possible, the medium of instruction until Grade V—and even until Grade VIII—should be the mother tongue or the local or regional language. A 2016 research study published in Science Direct that found significant gains in learning outcomes from early-years teaching being done in the mother tongue would make a strong case of the NEP stance. But, there is an equally strong case for teaching in English in the later years. It is de facto the language of white-collar employment.
ASER findings over the years show how handicapped English-learning in government schools is, which means if students are not forced to pick it up as they near employment, the continued handicap will impact prospects. Indeed, in Karnataka, teachers are resisting a move to cut years of English-learning at the undergraduate level from the current three years to one, citing the impact on employability of students.
A study by Aimee Chin, a US-based labour economist, and others (published by the University of Chicago Press) shows that English fluency results in a difference of up to 34% in hourly wages for Indian men, with the advantage going up commensurately with the degree of relative fluency. English skills are likely to become far more important in the future; IT-sector experts Remi Abere and Panos Constantinides recently wrote in the MIT Sloan Management Review that, for future jobs in the technology sector, English proficiency, among others things, will become as key as technical training. The state, of course, has to ensure that students get all the support needed to transition from Telugu to English.