While pro-Kannada activists laud the move, parents and teachers ask why the current system of Kannada as third language cannot continue.

Kannada made 1st or 2nd language in all Karnataka schools Parents and teachers question moveImage for representation only
news Education Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 15:40

Pushing the government’s Kannada language development efforts further, the Karnataka Education Department has made it mandatory for all schools in the state to teach Kannada as a first or second language, starting from the 2018-19 academic year.

The notification, which is based on the Kannada Language Learning Act 2015, states that the introduction of Kannada as a first or second language will be carried out in a phased manner starting from Class 1 students of all schools. Though the notification states that this rule will be applied for all schools from the 2017-2018 academic year, officials confirmed that the policy will become mandatory only from the next academic year.

“Next year, Kannada will be introduced for Class 1 students, then in 2019 for classes 1 and 2, and so on, till 2027. This is so that the change happens gradually over time,” explained Murali, Secretary of the Kannada Development Authority.  The move is binding on every government, aided and un-aided school in the state.

While scholars and pro-Kannada activists have hailed the move, parents and school officials have questioned the decision. “Kannada should be learnt by all students. But in a metropolitan city like Bengaluru, there are a lot of students who don’t stay in the city for a long time. At least, in the cities they should not force Kannada as the first or second language. It will be difficult for students who join in between, like in the eighth standard, to pick up the language”, said Rema Nandakumar, Principal of Mount Litera Zee School in Bengaluru.

Many parents too echo similar sentiments, asking why Kannada cannot continue as the third language. "We are not natives of Karnataka, but I want my kids to learn Kannada. However, it is unfair to insist on making the language the first or second preference. Kannada is my son's third language now, why can't the government let that be?" asked Suma Jain, whose son studies in a CBSE school in Bengaluru. 

While many parents and educators have expressed unhappiness with the decision, however, the Education Department states in its notification that it did not receive any written objections to the decision during the 30-day period it had provided for public inputs on the move. As no objections were recorded, the notification states, the Department went ahead with making  Kannada compulsory in all schools.

For its part, the notification attempts to take into account the difficulties of students migrating into the system midway through their education. Hence, the Education Department is issuing two types of textbooks – Kannada Kali for beginners, and Savi Kannada for advanced learners. Students who move to Karnataka from outside the state between Class 2 and Class 8 will be taught Kannada at an introductory level, while those who have studied in the state throughout will learn at a more advanced level.

However, it is still not clear how this disparity between students will be tackled at the Class 9 and Class 10 levels. The notification only directs the Karnataka Secondary Education Board to frame the syllabus for students from outside the state directly joining Classes 9 and 10.

The move to make Kannada the compulsory first or second language in schools follows an earlier attempt to make Kannada the medium of instruction in schools. The ‘medium of instruction debate’ goes back to 1994, when the Language Policy of the Karnataka Government mandated that Kannada be the medium of instruction in all primary schools.

However, this policy was virulently opposed by private schools and, in 2008, was struck down by the Karnataka High Court. When the Karnataka government appealed in the Supreme Court, a five-member bench ruled that the state could not impose Kannada as the medium of instruction in all primary schools.

This time around, the Karnataka government has restricted itself to making Kannada compulsory as one of the first two languages taught in schools. “This is a state language and the language of the land. 10 years ago, Tamil Nadu moved for Tamil to be made the first language. We are being more liberal and allowing the option of having Kannada as the second language,” said SG Siddaramaiah, Chairman of the Kannada Development Authority.

The decision also comes in the backdrop of a series of moves by the KDA against what it has said are attempts to unfairly privilege Hindi over Kannada. The KDA had also issued notices to the Namma Metro on the use of Hindi in its signboards, terming the practice as “unnecessary imposition of Hindi”.

Siddaramaiah denied that the latest move of the Education Department would count as Kannada imposition, and said, “Hindi is just one of the languages spoken in India while Kannada is the state language and the language native to our land. To protect the language of the land is our right and we are exercising it.” 

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