Schools and state language policy

This article examines how the recent “alleged rape of a three-year-old girl by an attendant on their school campus in north Bengaluru” has led to increased attention on “illegal schools”, which are now being investigated by the department of public instruction. The article traces the role the state’s language policy may have played. For the full article, click here.


Kannada-medium schools

From the Hindustan Times:

THIRTHAHALLI (SHIMOGA): When five-year-old Surashya goes to school, it’s a rather lonely life. For, the only other person there is her teacher H M Jaya Kumar.

Kannada-medium government schools in rural areas are facing low enrollment of primary school children. There are eight such kids in the village but their parents would rather they go to nearby private schools. But the government is keeping its word of not closing schools, even if there’s only one student. And that’s exactly what’s happening in the lower primary school at Jedi Kuni village near Araga in Thirthahalli taluk which has classes up to the fifth standard. Since June this year, it’s had one teacher and one child.”

For the full article, click here.

CSAT protests: Updated

I had reported earlier on the CSAT protests in India; here’s an update from The Times of India:

NEW DELHI: In a relief to Civil Services aspirants agitating against the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) pattern, the government has said that the marks for questions relating to English comprehension in Paper II of the prelims exam should not be counted for gradation and merit of the candidates. However, the CSAT format shall stay and the August 24 prelims exam will be held as per schedule.

For the complete story, click here.


CSAT Protests in India

From a piece on protests against the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) in India:

While one may argue with the students’ contention that the exam should be postponed because of the time they lost owing to protests, the agitation does point to two troubling issues. One is the sheer lack of English proficiency among millions of youth, even among those who have been to English-medium schools. That English-comprehension, which accounts for no more 22 marks in a 200 mark paper, should exercise the youth is a grim reminder of the quality of English teaching across the country. It is of course not fair to punish students for poor transmission of English — and the UPSC must calibrate suitably in the current format — but both the Centre and states must reflect on the political effects of having unfulfilled millions who seek to get ahead in the English-dominated globalised workplace, but cannot because their schools have failed them.
For the full article, click here.

The language of choice

An excellent article by Dr. Shivali Tukdeo in The Indian Express:

Supreme Court judgment marks an important turn in the debate on language education policy.

In 1876, Ramabai, 18, set off on a long and arduous journey from south India to Bengal and the north to become a scholar. Trained in Sanskrit scriptures, philosophy and languages early on, Ramabai would soon be conferred the title “Pandita”, speak seven languages and go on to write engaging scholarly books in Marathi and English. Travels between different languages and knowledge systems were central to Ramabai’s educational experience and her work.

Language continued to occupy centrestage in the story of India’s formal education as well and its steady expansion over the course of the last century. Despite the tradition of plurilingual pedagogic practices and an outpouring of research on the importance of home-language(s) in education, the place of language remains contested and forever unresolved. Given that considerations of employability, higher educational opportunities and regional pride increasingly govern the perceptions of language in education, no policy decision can confine itself to educational ideals alone.

In this context, the judgment by a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court (dated May 7) offers a significant turn in a series of long-standing dilemmas on language education policy. Responding to the government order on the medium of instruction in 1989 that eventually became the language policy in Karnataka in 1994, the bench considered the following questions: (a) Who is the rightful authority to decide the medium of instruction for students? (b) What does “mother tongue”mean and who is the rightful authority to decide what can be called mother tongue in a particular context? (c) Can education in one’s mother tongue be imposed? (d) Is the right to choose implicit in the right to education? Discussions of each of these questions were framed within the scope of three articles in the Constitution: Article 350A, which calls for the state and local authorities to ensure adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue to children from linguistic minority communities; Article 19, which is entitled “right to freedom”, including freedom of speech and expression, freedom to form unions, move and practice a profession; and Article 21A, which resolves that the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age 6 to14.

Thinking through the questions of medium of instruction in light of the constitutional scheme, the judgment involves four important points. Adhering to a rather narrow interpretation of the term “mother tongue” the judgment holds that in the context of the Constitution, mother tongue would mean “the language of the linguistic minority in a state” and it would be the child or the parents who will have decisive power to declare their language as the mother tongue. Second, the bench also holds that “the child, or, on his [sic] behalf, his parent or guardian, has a right to freedom of choice with regard to the medium of instruction in which he would like to be educated at the primary stage in school.” Considering a liberal interpretation of the terms “freedom of expression’’ the judgment holds that the right to freedom of speech includes the freedom of a child to be educated in a language of “the choice of the child”. Finally, the judgment holds that the state cannot impose mother tongue as a medium of instruction.

The verdict privileges Article 19 over others and foregrounds individual liberty and choice as primary drivers of access to education. The judgment does not engage with issues of pedagogy, educational philosophy and instructional practices. Research on right to education has maintained that familiarity with school language is crucial in enrolments and progress in early years and while the verdict does not counter this position, it seeks to enable an element of choice in education. In the same line, the judgment suggests a shift in the state’s role as loco parentis and goes on to re-order the power of authority in education.

The distributive authority in determining educational access and content is positioned alongside the arguments of freedom, individual liberty, choice and lesser involvement of the state. This narrative, while in contrast with much that stands for right to education, is closely connected to the dramatic growth in private schooling and the manufacturing of English as a “cure all”. The current judgment will not affect Kannada as a subject in class I to IV but its broad orientation does signal a turn.

The writer is a member, faculty in education programme, at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.