English or Kannada? Does the State know better?

Photo Caption

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The recent judgement of our apex court striking down the appeal of our State government to make primary education in the mother-tongue compulsory has attracted both flak and appreciation from citizens’ groups and citizens depending on which side of the fence they stand.

What we should understand here is that the education of our children is a very personal matter in which all decisions are best left to the parents.

The State even with the help of experts in the field of education, who claim to have based their conclusions on studies, however extensive, cannot simply declare that it is easier for children to gain their education if their learning process is started in their respective mother-tongues when the experience of their parents is different.

In fact, these experts cannot claim to be more knowledgeable than most parents like me who have themselves studied in English medium schools and whose children have followed in their footsteps very comfortably.

My parents who had studied in their mother-tongue like millions of others thought it sensible to put all their children into English medium schools simply because they felt out of their personal experience that it was a better path than the one they had trod.

It is only because of this simple realisation that generations of parents in the past have taken great pains and have gone to great lengths, relocating themselves from villages and small towns to cities, often jeopardizing their occupations and livelihoods, just to enable their progeny to get a firm foothold on the most useful education.

Thanks to the proliferation of good schools even in the remotest reaches of our State today, this exodus is no longer necessary.

While I have seen dozens of cases of parents transplanting their children from mother-tongue medium schools to English medium schools, I am yet to come across someone who has thought it wise to do the opposite. When this is the case, can assumptions that come out of a few years of academic research rival the learning that comes out of generations of experience?

If research is the gold standard for determining what is good and bad for us, why do most educated and enlightened parents move heaven and earth during the school admission season year after year, standing in long queues, braving not only the sun by day but even the chill by night, before the gates of English medium schools?

Why are these schools proliferating like mushrooms after a good monsoon, while mother-tongue medium schools are going abegging for students and shutting shop in despair, unable to sustain themselves against the tide?

Before we shout ‘unfair’ at what is happening in our society we should pause for a while to ponder. To ask ourselves if this monstrously overwhelming majority of parents, desperate to give their children an English medium education can all be wrong?

What we all need is a good and useful education that while giving sustenance to our children does not kill the language of our State. This can be ensured by paving the way for education in the English medium for all those who clamour for it with a strict stipulation that the language of the State, Kannada in our case, is compulsorily taught throughout the entire schooling process, without any exception.

The State government should be satisfied if the importance of the language of the State is not undermined in any of the schools on its soil and the so-called experts if they so desire, making the best use of their wisdom, can get their kith and kin to study in their mother-tongues.

Most people who are now advocating a return to education in the mother-tongue are the ones who have never tasted the fruits of a firmly grounded education in the English medium. If the others think that ‘English medium delayed is English medium denied,’ what is wrong with it?

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: A view of the meeting of the great and the good in the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore, on Friday, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment on the medium of instruction for class 1 to IV. (Karnataka Photo News)


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12 Responses to “English or Kannada? Does the State know better?”

  1. Deepak Says:

    For once I whole heartedly agree with a Churumuri author. The Karnataka policy on forcing Kannada medium down parent’s throats has been regressive and has been a total flop. Most schools obtain permission for Kannada medium, but teach in English medium and bribe the inspectors. And there was no great gain to Kannada by this policy.

    But the biggest point is that it is totally unconstitutional for a Government to dictate terms to parents on what medium their children should study in. The HC and SC judgements only uphold this. If still people protest, they can organise such publicity shows. But the SC verdict is final and unlikely to be changed. This will ensure more English schools, ensure competition and hopefully bring down the craze for a few schools which has led to high donations.

    If the Govt is concerned about education, let is first crackdown on the donation dons instead of wasting time with such useless policies.

  2. nilesh Says:

    let the market forces decide

  3. s k muthanna Says:

    Rightly or wrongly the dialect English has become the universal medium. When I just wanted to learn a foreign language the German teacher Frau Grandhi gave me the first rule: if u want to learn German u need to think in German . there’s no way of translating English thought into understandable German. This statement opened my eyes indeed. I speak abt a dozen languages including a few dialects and I follow the above cardinal principle. It’s like me acting in different language films – but in real life. It’s fun. If one needs to get a good, paying job, one needs to learn English and not Hinglish, kinglish,pinglish or tinglish etc. Having born into a particular language speaking community, that can be picked up too even if it’s not offered among the three languages a student needs to learn in the school. Medium of instruction better b English for job prospects otherwise it wud b like my cook who studied in Tamil school which did not teach English and was a 10th class pass.initially he was roasting bitumin in an indl factory. Later I taught him cooking and English. Now a senior sales executive, travels all over India and is somebody! I learnt Tamil from him!!

  4. Shemej Says:

    Let me answer your questions, not in the same order as given in the article.

    “Why are these schools proliferating like mushrooms”

    Money, sir, Money.

    There is a public perception that English = Money. Why more students aspire to be software engineers now a days? Why most parents wanted their children to become doctors and engineers three decades back? Answer is “Money”.

    Now, let us take the statistics. Less than 1.5% of the population of India worked in IT/BT/Outsourcing industry. If everyone wants to be software engineer, (and in an imaginary situation, where 124 Crore people, all of them study BTech and MCA and get ready to be software engineers), where will the rest of Indians go? Where will you employ 98.5% of Indians?

    Most people are “practical minded”. They send their chidlren to English Medium School, not because, that is good. But because they think, their children will earn more money, and in our old age, we can be more comfortable. (Or can lead a more luxurious life compared to neighbour)

    Till recently, Deccan Herald/Prajavani publishers sold more English Calendars than Kannada Calendar in Bangalore. This was when Bangalore had little less than 45% literacy. You are talking about an International city where 55% of original population do not even know how to write their name in mother tongue. Why?

    Obviously, they were struggling to have enough money to send their children to school.

    And only a privileged section could afford to have education. (Hence, the keyword is not English, that is privilege)

    In a multi-lingual country of 1 billion population, if only 20% get education (of some quality), and out of them 10% get English Education, then it is natural that most highly paid jobs will go to those who studied in English medium Schools. (This is because, most highly paid jobs are in those industries, which need huge finance. Most regions in India do not have finance to support big business locally. )

    But what will happen if all 1 billion Indians study in English Medium schools and get good command in English Language? Are all 1 billion people get highly paid jobs?

    How can India ever generate 1 billion highly paid jobs? If every one is highly paid,then the life expense will also arise accordingly. In Indonesia every one gets salary in TenThousands (search online and find out). That doesnt mean they are living comfortably. At no point in time, India will have 1 billion highly paid jobs. There will be less than 25% highly paid jobs in any country at any point of time. The remaining 75% will always remain struggling (if not end up beggars). If you eductate 1 billion people in English medium, you will have half a billion people begging in English. That is all !

    In my opinion, if chidren are educated in a foreign language (other than their mother tongue), they fail to develop the skills to analyse complex problems. For developing that skill, they have to start thinking in their own mother tongue, in the early age. (if you have any doubt, please go through thousands of online posts made by new generation Indian middle class– forget about the right and wrong aspect. Howmany insighful posts you can point out.– Of course, arguably, they are all earning high salary. )

    And not all those who live in Karnataka, the mother tongue is Kannada. For some children who live in India, especially in cities, their first language is English. I can say this emphatically, any child who is forced to think in a foreign language, their ability to analyse complex problems will be negatively affected.

    Next question is, we can show results– that many English Medium students have better analysing skills. Agree. There are THREE other important factors you have to take into consideration. 1) IQ level of children 2) Socio-economic background fromt they come 3) Peer-group which will put pressure on them to have higher motivation (In reality, most of toay’s English medium children automatically get this third advantage, in present circumstances. But it wont happen like that always. When every one gets into English medium, your kid will be studying with all types of children.)

    Will the parents be bothered about their children’s problem solving abilities ?

    I have talked with many School managers in Bangalore — CBSE/State syllabus–, and at that time, most managers told me, parents look six things to determine if their school is good or not. (one and a half decades back)–a) if school is English Medium b) if School has own building c) if School has a computer lab d) if School has a band (set) with uniform. e) what is the percentage of pass in public examinations f) if they have own school buses with brand name painted on them — They dont understand what is taught and how it is taught. Again, there can be exceptions.

    Today, Indian economy is the third largest economy in the world. 30 years back, it was a poor, backward developing nation. It is expected that, after a couple of decades, (when most of our present school children are out in the job market), India may become a larger economy. At that time, more trade will happen in India. And obviously, large number of MNCs will open shops in India. And large number of present day Indian Corporate will do business in a global level. Will the companies insist that they will employ only Kannadigas studied in English Medium School after getting inspired by Dr. Javed Nayeem’s article? Or are they going to employ, more efficient youths coming to India looking for jobs?

    At that point of time, if India produce 1 and half billion English speaking population, what is the big fun?

    Jobs will still go to those who are coming from privileged families, who can refine their skills according to the market needs. More than 60% of the Indians, will still remain the poorest of the poor in the world. Today, these poor people get only those jobs, that NO OTHER PEOPLE IN THE WORLD READY TO DO. 55% of Indian works in agriculture, only because Indian agriculture job is the least paid job anywhere in the world. Most Indian women go to USA to work as Hospital nurses and district school board teacers. When they return back to India, they marry rich young men and take them back to USA. Most men who illegally enter USA and Canda work illegally in coffee shops and family run restaurants. (and their children when they grow up, comment in Facebook, “Yeeaaaaaaaah ! You Indians are cheap ! Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru destroyed India…But you fuxxing Indians dont understand !!! blah.. blah.. blah… “….) Not all 1 billion Indians can imagine to get jobs in USA that way.

    When India economy expands further, people from all over the world will come to India competing for the best paid jobs.

    No country in the world/ no continent in the world requires more than a million English speaking coolies. If 1 Billion Indians are educated in English medium, then, Half a billion English speaking Indians would advertize themselves as best English speaking Toilet cleaning staff, after two decade.

    I wish good luck to them, in advance !.

    “My parents who had studied in their mother-tongue like millions of others thought it sensible to put all their children into English medium schools simply because they felt out of their personal experience….”
    — If my parents thought, then that is right?

    Your parents are coming from a certain socio-economic background. They didnt just educate you in English medium. They also
    built wealth and social connections which helped them to give you a good career.

    Having English Education is like having Nuclear bombs. If every contry has nuclear bomb, then it is of no use. And if you have only nuclear bomb, but do not have the supporting infrastructure and missile technology, then the bomb itself will become a disadvantage. Think of Maldives having a Nuclear bomb. A couple of decades back, a group of fishermen took over Maldives. And to develop a nuclear bomb itself is relatively easy and cheap. Dr. Javed Nayeem’s parents had both Nuclear bombs and the supporting military infrastructure, including missiles to give a career launchpad to their son. Most sections of Indians can not even imagine to have these supporting infrastructure, then it is a farce to advise to them to develop own nuclear bombs. That is, in a way, a clever way, to block their progress.

    “with a strict stipulation that the language of the State, Kannada in our case, is compulsorily taught throughout the entire schooling process, without any exception…..”

    I dont want to comment here on making regional language compulsory. It is a more complex subject. That has to be examined from tens (if not hundreds) of different angles. Including National integrity. I am not attempting that here.

  5. Gokulam 3rd Stage Says:

    I don’t understand why this has to be a very clear Kannada vs English debate. Why not have bi-lingual schools where the social sciences are taught in Kannada medium and the sciences in English? Almost all kids in English medium schools speak Kannada at school anyway – at least that has been my experience. Why not have children study history, civics, geography etc. in Kannada or the mother-tongue? Physics, Chemistry, Maths etc. could very well be taught in English.

    In any case, if the government is serious about Kannada medium schools, it could declare that there will be no more new private schools and make a massive investment in government schools which are all Kannada medium. Our governments have abdicated the responsibility to provide good, inexpensive education since independence. This could be a good excuse to correct that.

  6. Maaysa Says:

    Complete privatization of education would be awesome.

  7. harkol Says:

    IF the state can force feed a language, then why can’t it force feed ‘culture’ and ‘religion’ as well?

    Liberty is about personal choice in various aspects of one’s own life, that does not in any way impinge on another’s life. If a person can’t speak Kannada in Karnataka – it only inconveniences him if other’s won’t speak the language that he knows.

    But, if a bunch of folks decide to speak in a language (swahili for all I care), then what does the state have to do with it?

    Govt. is welcome to promote Kannada, but not force Kannada on anyone.

    ಕುದುರೇನ ನೀರಿಗೆ ಎಳ್ಕೊಂಡು ಹೋಗಬಹುದು, ಆದರೆ ಕುದುರೆ ತಾನೇ ನೀರು ಕುಡಿಬೇಕು?

  8. Sanjeeva Says:

    ‘Education of our children is a personal matter’ is a vague and loose opinion and out of context. Preserving language and culture of a region is as much the duty of a state as its residents. Here, what the state could do is instead of forcing the schools to adopt Kannada medium, the children/parents could be allowed to choose the medium, while studying Kannada as a subject could be made compulsory from Class-I to PU in all the systems – State, CBSE or ICSE. That would at least ensure that everyone residing in the state learns the language and uses it. This is one least opposing way to preserve the language.

  9. Nastika Says:

    Kusma pushes for compulsory Kannada
    All CBSE and ICSE affiliated schools under the Karnataka Unaided School Management Association (KUSMA) will be asked to compulsorily teach Kannada as a subject from Standard I, from the academic year 2014-15.

    Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bangalore/Kusma-pushes-for-compulsory-Kannada/articleshow/35127111.cms

    This ideal & perfect solution. The state govt must adopt Kusma model for its schools.

    Kannada language has survived 1000s of years without being taught in school. Education is required in 21st century for jobs & livelihood. English is the best language if you are looking for jobs & higher studies. Then it is best to teach maths & science in English. Every parent knows this and hence the scramble for English medium schools.

    Let Kannada be taught as language and the lessons can highlight Kannada literature.


  10. SRI Says:







  11. Shemej Says:

    ಕುದುರೇನ ನೀರಿಗೆ ಎಳ್ಕೊಂಡು ಹೋಗಬಹುದು, ಆದರೆ ಕುದುರೆ ತಾನೇ ನೀರು ಕುಡಿಬೇಕು?

    Harkol, your comments make sense. However, the problem is, you see everything from an individual’s /personal freedom/ liberty point of view.

    If the concept of a multi-lingual – multi-cultural India fails to continue as a single entity, then the whole discussion of personal choices and freedom would become meaningless.

    I dont know if you understand Tamil (I am sure you can). If Kannada is your first Language and then you learn Tamil afterwards, you can really understand why Tamils(Tamilians) have great difficulty to learn other Indian Languages. It is a 2000 years old language which didnt borrow much vocabulary from other languages. It is very very hard for an average Tamil(ian) to learn a North Indian language. In this context, how can they think in harmony with the rest of Indians?

    I fully agree with your view that Language should not be enforced on individuals.

    But I think, our policy makers should think very seriously about the role that language can play in preserving /undermining National integrity. We have to learn much from how Bangladesh sub-nationalism revolted back, when Urdu was imposed on them.

    “Leaders and Rulers from West (Present day) Pakistan declared that ‘URDU’ was to be the National language of (undivided )Pakistan. In December 1947, Karachi Education Conference appealed Urdu be made the sole state language of Pakistan.And asked Bangla would be abolished from all government douments, including money order forms, postcards etc, instead would be printed only in Urdu and English.

    By year 1951 language problem became worse. In 1952 new year, then Pakistan PM Khwaja Nazimuddin declared,“Urdu will be the state language of Pakistan.” This announcement triggered discontent amongst the Bengali population of the then East Pakistan.

    This gave way for Liberation war of 1971 and Bangladesh Nation was born. Mainly the student community of East Bengal (presetnt Bangladesh) refused to accept this Urdu dominance. ”
    (Copied and edited from http://www.21stfebruary.org/language_movement.htm )

    Do we really need our Nation be divided into several small states which would be depended on powerful Imperial nations for military resources, technology and finance?

    Please note that Central Intelligence Agency was funding the North East India’s small sub-national groups to inspire them to liberate from India. Please read more about “Operation Brahmaputra Project”

    In fact, the CIA and other USA agencies were successful in influencing the BJP and RSS to abandon the well thought of policy of Linguistic States. And it was BJP under the Influence of CIA first started dividing India’s bigger states into small states. They have ideological reasons to demand for small states. (Once, Linguistic State concept is abandoned, the Religion would become the only one cultural entity which can inspire people to unite together.) In that process, India is going to face several decades of mass agitations led by various small regional groups demanding seperate statehood. We have seen the disastrous consequences in Hyderabad and in Assam, apart from Gorkhaland earlier.

    I was pained to see that Harkol was earlier (not in this thread) arguing against the concept of linguistic states.

    Some times, ಕೆಲವು ಐತಿಹಾಸಿಕ ಸಂದರ್ಭಗಳಲ್ಲಿ, ಕುದುರೆ ಪರವಾಗಿ ನೀವು ನೀರು ಕುಡಿಯಲು ಬೇಕಾಗುತ್ತದೆ.

  12. Sooraj Says:

    Amidst the heated debates on the medium of education, there is one aspect that seldom gets highlighted. In smaller towns and villages, are our teachers prepared to teach in English?

    Having grown up in rural Kerala, studying in a Malayalam medium school until class-10, I consider it was very fortunate of me that my parents did not send me to an English medium school in the nearby town. I got to learn in the language I spoke, everyone around me spoke. I got access to a wealth of reading material right from primary classes – newspapers, magazines and books on a large variety of subjects. By the time I was in high school, I could comprehend the contents of any book I could lay my hands on – because they were all in my language. I used to read the textbooks – be it physics or economics or history – from cover to cover, directly delving into the matter discussed because language never posed a barrier. However, I remember at that time it was a big challenge for me to read and understand the English in the copies of The Indian Express or The Hindu that occasionally came my way.

    Now, contrast this to what many of my cousins and friends who were sent to “English medium” schools had to go through. They reached high school after a long struggle with this strange beast of a language that neither their teachers nor the parents could tame. The entire energy was spent on “overcoming” the foreign language. Well, they could read The Indian Express a bit better than me. But how much of the subjects they studied in school did they enjoy? Did they get a chance to be inspired by topics in textbooks and explore more and more? Did they get the time to pause and reflect on what they leaned and why the world was they way it was? You guessed it right. It was all about English. English was the “common enemy” that the students and teachers fought day in day out. Teachers struggled hard to communicate in English, but most were miserable failures.

    I came out of school with good fundamentals and not-so-great command over the English language. From the pre-degree (11th std) days onwards the medium of instruction was English and in a matter of months I found myself comfortable with the language. But I was surrounded by so many of my “English medium” friends with broken English and half-baked fundamentals.

    This may not be much relevant in cities where the kids start speaking in and reading English early on, with the right environment to support them. But I presume in rural India, this is and will be an issue. Teaching in English or any language for that matter is fine as long as we have properly skilled teachers and the right resources to support the kids in their learning.

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