Will it hold the key in Hindi heartland?
The language of English as a medium in schools is finally catching up in most parts of India, particularly in Hindi heartland, defying politicians endeavourto push Hindi. Thanks to its growing importance in different walks of life, more and more parents are voting with their feet and opting to put their children in English-medium schools.While overall enrolment in schools went up by just 7.5 per cent between 2008-09 and 2013-14, enrolment in English-medium schools almost doubled during this period,against just 25 per cent increase in enrolment in Hindi schools. Though the number of English-medium school students is still dwarfed by Hindimedium ones, the growth in numbers is significant, jumping from over 1.5 crore in 2008-09 to 2.9 crore by 2013-14. In the same period, the Hindi numbers went from 8.3 crore to 10.4 crore.
As per trends based on data received from 14.5 lakh schools spread over 662 districts across 35 states and union territories, the English-medium enrolment was highest in Bihar, where it grew 47 times or 4,700 per cent while Hindi-medium enrolment grew by just 18 per cent. In Uttar Pradesh, English-medium enrolment grew 10 times or by 1,000 per cent compared to just 11 per cent in Hindi-medium enrolment. In other Hindi speaking states too, English-medium enrolment grew massively – 525 per centin Haryana, 458 per cent in Jharkhand and 209 per cent in Rajasthan. The data received from the states is put together by the District Information System for Education (DISE) of the National University of Education Planning and Administration under the human resource development ministry. Since 2010-11, DISE has been covering unrecognised schools and recognised and unrecognised madrasas, which in 2013-14 comprised 2.4 per cent of all schools. While there is some underreporting of enrolment by medium of instruction, as acknowledged by DISE, the undercounting is not seem big enough to affect the overall picture.
It may be noted that UP and Bihar make up 53 per cent of the students enrolled in Hindi medium schools. Add Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and these four states account for more than three quarters of Hindi-medium students, close to eight crore. If the other three Hindi speaking states — Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Haryana – areadded to this, it would account for 90 per cent of those in Hindi medium, leaving about one crore children in Hindi-medium schools in the rest of the country. Of the 2.9 crore English-medium students, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir, in that order, make up over 54 per cent.
According to the DISE data, in Haryana, the proportion of children in Hindi-medium fell by 25 percentage points in one decade from 97 per cent in 2003-04 to 72 per cent in 2013-14 while it fell from 94 per cent to 70 per cent in Himachal Pradesh. However, the biggest decline in proportion of children enrolled in vernacular medium schools was in Kerala and Punjab, where it fell by 40 percentage points. In Kerala, the share of Malayalam-medium students fell during the decade from 90 per cent to almost 50 per cent and in Punjab the share of those in Punjabi-medium fell from over 99 per cent to 59 per cent. In Andhra Pradesh, the proportion of Telugu-medium fell by 30 percentage points and in Tamil Nadu the share of Tamil-medium fell by 24 percentage points.
Interestingly, the highest proportion of English-medium enrolment was in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, where almost all students are in English-medium schools. Likewise, in north-eastern states like Nagaland, Sikkim and Manipur, the share of English-medium is above 80-90 per cent. In Kerala, nearly half the enrolment is in English-medium schools. Other states where English-medium has a significant share are Andhra Pradesh (44 per cent), Tamil Nadu (41 per cent) and Himachal Pradesh (30 per cent).
So what’s setting the trend? It is the need for a common language in an increasingly globalised community that is making English more important than ever. The thrust for English is not just for wider job prospects, but also to meet social standards, as a personality development tool. The shift towards English-medium schools, thus, supplements the fact that the language is being accorded an increased importance, especially in Hindi-speaking states. The language has become synonymous with a better quality of life. Though it may not guarantee success, English has indeed become one of the essential factors.
However, across the world, and in India as well, there is a consensus among educators, educationists and linguists that children learn most effectively in their mother tongues. Even a research conducted by UNESCO shows that children who begin their education in their mother tongue make a better start, and continue to perform better, than those for whom school starts with a new language.It’s a no-brainer thatusing a language that children are familiar with, eases their transition from home to school. According to experts, kids are more easily engaged in the classroom because they understand what is going on and are able to link it to their everyday lives. This helps them develop literacy skills more easily and also their general cognitive abilities.
Research shows that a child’s ability to learn a second or even a third language improves greatly if his/her first language skills are well developed. And far from being a burden, children who know one language well are very receptive and quick to learn new languages. The three-language formula for schools, which stressed learning in the mother tongue, seemed to acknowledge this.The transition from home language to a school language is complicated enough in a country like India where large proportions of the population do not speak the standardised regional language but a dialect or, as with many tribal communities, an entirely different language.States with large tribal populations, for example, do not even have sufficient teachers who understand, never mind teach in, their various languages. Starting to learn to read and write in a language that they never hear at home or in the community makes learning difficult and reduces its appeal, making it harder to keep children’s’ attention in class or to keep them in class at all.
On the other hand, English is said to be a corrective against existing social disadvantages. But it is more likely to accentuate these disadvantages. The obsession with English resolutely ignores what is impossible to ignore, that a majority of Indian children leave school without the basics of old-fashioned reading, writing and arithmetic, in any language.
This cannot be fixed by teaching them English or in English with, among other things, teachers who themselves are unskilled in the language. To reverse this trend, policy makers need to re-think mass education from the perspective of children and their socio-economic situations.Right now, all Indian children are forced into a school system designed for a tiny proportion of the population that has an inter-generational education advantage. What they need instead is an education system that helps them acquire language skills early and learn in a manner that will allow them to close the gap with the educationally advantaged.
Most importantly, English is a language, it is not a test of your intelligence. This is something policy makers and promoters of English should think through seriously.Learning a language, any language, is about gaining a skill that’s necessary to gain an education, it’s not an education in itself. Moreover, done badly, it deprives a child of a proper education.