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Sanskrit or German? A row over foreign languages in India’s schools

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken to India’s PM Narendra Modi about his order that state schools stop teaching German as a foreign language. The move is designed to promote more traditional Indian languages.
School students in India

India’s government has ordered a state-run school association to stop offering German as a language option for its more than a million students and focus on promoting more traditional languages such as Sanskrit instead.

The country’s government gave the order to the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), or the Central School Organization, on Saturday, November 15. Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani told the Indian Express newspaper the decision was made in “the national interest,” and that young people could continue to study German as a hobby for no academic credit. The organization has 1,092 schools across India, for the children of army officials and government staff.

Local vs foreign

The announcement throws exam preparations into chaos, with 68,000 students in grades six to eight due to sit exams in less than three months. The students will be asked in the coming days if they wish to switch from learning German. The KVS says it will be providing counseling and extra support to those directly affected by the change.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German chancellor Merkel raised the issue with Indian PM Modi when the two met on the sidelines of the G20 summit

However privately-run schools will continue to be free to provide a range of foreign languages, including German.

India’s government promotes a “three-language policy,” designed to encourage schools to teach students Hindi, English and “an Indian language” such as Sanskrit. But many schools have allowed students to study another foreign language such as German in place of Hindi or Sanskrit, while schools in non-Hindi speaking regions generally teach on a “two-language policy” basis, ignoring Hindi altogether.

The alleged violation of the national educational curriculum was uncovered in October, when a 2011 memorandum signed by the KVS and the Goethe Institute came up for renewal. Indian Minister Irani says an investigation has now been opened into how this agreement originally came to be, calling it illegal.

Prior to this, India’s Sanskrit Teachers Association (SSS) had begun legal action in Delhi’s High Court, saying the continued allowance of German in the school curriculum went against national education policy. The group also described the teaching of foreign languages in Indian schools as “a Western conspiracy.”
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More options for students

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the two met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.

Following the meeting India’s foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said although no decisions had been made, Modi had made it clear his first priority was the students.

“Indian PM Narendra Modi assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he would look into the matter. Modi told Merkel that he wanted Indian children to have the chance to learn as many languages as possible,” said Akbaruddin.

On Monday, November 17, German Ambassador Michael Steiner said while he understood the motivation behind the government’s announcement, he hoped it would consider letting German remain as a foreign language option.

“There is no harm in learning the Sanskrit language as it is an integral part of the Indian culture and society. But if the Indian students want to learn a modern language to improve their professional prospects, they should be given the opportunity,” he told DW.

Language politics

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been pushing for Sanskrit to play a bigger role in Indian society. Although he can speak some English, Prime Minister Modi speaks almost exclusively in Hindi, a controversial action for some in a country where English is one of the official languages.

Though in the most recent national census only 14,000 people identified Sanskrit as their primary language, it is considered the root of many of the country’s more than 20 official languages, and is particularly important in Hinduism.

Sanskrit to be 3rd Language From Classes 6 – 8: Centre to Supreme Court

By Udayan Nag November 27, 2014

In the latest development regarding the language row concerning schools, the Centre has told the Supreme Court that Sanskrit will be the third language from standards six to eight.

The latest buildup comes on the back of a decision taken by the Human Resource Ministry which states that German will no longer be offered as an alternative third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas.

The government said that German can be studied as an additional language or a hobby along with Sanskrit, reports NDTV.

Minister of Human Resource Development, Smriti Irani, had earlier asked the authorities to stop teaching students German as the third language and stick to Sanskrit at the 99th meeting of the Board of Governors of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan.

Irani argued that teaching German as a third language violates the three-language formula enunciated in the National Policy of Education, 1986, reports India Today.

The decision is set to affect over 70,000 students across 500 Kendriya Vidyalayas studying in classes 6 to 8, who will have to switch their third language from German to Sanskrit or any other “modern Indian language” with immediate effect.

HRD Ministry to Emphasize on Sanskrit Learning in Schools

Aug. 6, 2014

In a drive to boost Sanskrit education in schools and keep the interest going among the students, the HRD ministry had roped in National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to organize a 3-day national seminar as part of the Sanskrit week beginning from 07 August 2014. The national seminar would be titled ‘Challenges in Sanskrit Teaching and Learning’ in which the NCERT is planning to take special measures to help Sanskrit find its place in the school textbooks and make it more interesting.

A meeting has been organized between the heads of premiere institutions in school education in India comprising of NCERT, CBSE, Kendriya Vidyalaya and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya. The meeting was conducted to work upon measures that can help bring the students to take interest in Sanskrit language. Kendriya Vidyalaya has decided to encourage Sanskrit by initiating Sanskrit Morning Prayer in the schools.

The seminar which is scheduled to take place in this month would be attended by eminent Scholars in Sanskrit, teachers, educators and Sanskrit language enthusiasts from all over the nation. The main agenda of the seminar is to decide on the Sanskrit curriculum in schools, the revision of the Sanskrit syllabus and textbooks. To make reading easier for the students the seminar would also discuss about the supplementary reading material and use of audio-visual material for teaching and learning. The development of e-content in Sanskrit would also get discussed so that the students can use the web medium to find more information and knowledge about the language.

Former VC of the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sanshtan, Radha Vallabh Tripathi would be addressing the seminar and scholars in Sanskrit and teachers from various parts of the country would present their views on how to make the teaching and learning experience of Sanskrit more interesting and effective. This would help making the language popular among the school children and guide the teachers on the method of teaching Sanskrit in schools.