Opinion: English in govt schools, a masterstroke by TRS to check the BJP

No national political party – be it the BJP or the Congress – could support English medium education in government schools because of the regional language bias they themselves constructed.
Telangana CM KCR
Telangana CM KCR

The cabinet decision of the Telangana TRS government to introduce English medium in all the government schools from 2022-23 academic year is a masterstroke to stop the expansion of the BJP in the state. English medium education along with Amma Vodi programme (a flagship scheme whereby every mother or a recognised guardian in the absence of the mother is entitled to financial assistance for her child/children’s education from class 1 to class 12) in the neighboring Andhra Pradesh has become so popular among the rural and urban poor that the demand for the same in Telangana has become quite strong. The programme might even set the wheels turning for a third-time victory for Telangana CM KCR, just as the Rythubandhu (a scheme whereby the government provided aid during the Kharif season to farmers, to take care of their investment needs), helped him in the 2018 elections.   

No national political party – be it the BJP or the Congress – could support English medium education in government schools because of the regional language bias they themselves constructed over a period of 70 years all over the country. I had a discussion about the possibility of English medium education in Karnataka’s government schools with the then chief minister Siddaramaiah (2013-2018). He told me the Kannada intellectuals would oppose this move. Even CPI(M)’s dynamic Chief Minister in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, also told me that the Kerala intellectual class would oppose such a move in the state. But let us not forget that all such intellectuals educated their own children in private English medium schools.

The BJP for instance, whether at the state or national level, opposes introducing English medium education in government schools, but at the same time, gives a free run to the private sector to have entirely English medium schools for the rich. After the BJP came to power in 2014, on one hand, there was massive privatisation of school and university education, and on the other, the party stressed on regional language medium education in government schools. In all the states where it is in power, government school education remains in a poor condition. Meanwhile, the industrialists and feudal rich who support the BJP financially and in vote mobilization have started private English medium institutions all over the country to make easy money.

In no state can the local unit of the BJP promise English medium education in all government schools. Its aggressive agendas are around religion and communalism. But the people in the villages find no use of such agendas beyond a point. People need education that equalizes the rich and poor. English medium education with good infrastructure in government schools that can compete with the best of the private schools is only the way forward for the Indian poor.

Good infrastructure does not mean air-conditioned classrooms, but basic facilities where there are good classrooms with seating arrangement that allow children to sit through the day comfortably. By good infrastructure, we mean clean water and toilet facilities. More than anything, we need teachers who can teach with commitment and necessary knowledge from not just textbooks but also the surroundings, state, nation, and the world with conscious learning habits. Supply of books and other learning teaching material is also crucial.

For the last 73 years, the education system has contributed to making the rich, richer, and the poor, poorer. English medium education for the rich and regional language instruction for the poor along with sub-standard facilities has forced the children from villages to suffer in every sphere of life. Till the YS Jaganmohan Reddy government took a bold step of transforming the school education system, no chief minister ventured such a step. The Telangana government told the people in 2014 that there will be free education from KG to PG, and KCR did not dare to initiate a complete shift of the medium of education for the last seven years. Though the government has initiated improving the residential schools and making them English medium, the vast village level school education both in quality and quantity remained very underdeveloped, that too, with Telugu medium teaching.

It has reached a point where the Telangana education system has become significantly weak and most graduates and postgraduates are not competent enough to get relevant jobs in the national and international markets. School and inter-education across the state have been sending ill-equipped students to higher education. The educational standards of Telangana have become as good as any BJP-ruled states’ educational standards. The quality of English communication and writing of the school and university teachers has become dismally poor. This situation requires systemic and massive change in the school education system.

Shifting all the government schools to English medium with a focus on improving the basic infrastructure is the first step. It is good that the government has initiated that. But there is much more to do. The general perception about teaching in the state seems to be that it is “easy” – a downfall of the prestige and seriousness that the teaching profession had during the Telangana agitation days. To overturn this declining quality, training school teachers both in language and content is one aspect, and disciplining the whole teaching community to be in the school, college and university around the academic work is another. The government has to send a strong message that work discipline cannot be compromised by any means while respecting their democratic rights.

The BJP, at national level, has no seriousness on quality education. The National Education Policy in itself does not bring radical changes in the education system. Its main discourse and ideology is around religion and marginalizing minorities. The previous Congress governments also did not make the education system world class with focus on the rural school system. Neither party took India toward universal and quality education like the Chinese did.

Hence the regional parties have to show the way. The Andhra Pradesh Government began that new way and the Telangana government is moving in the same direction. By initiating this system educational reform agenda, KCR is likely to win the election for the third time in 2023.

(Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is political theorist, social activist and author. He has been fighting for the introduction of the English medium in the government schools for three decades.)

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