Education
Experts assert that the move will be beneficial to SC, ST, BC and minority children, and will bring about a radical shift in the education system.
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In the latest development in the much debated move to introduce English medium instruction in all government schools in Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has decided that only classes 1 to 6 will be converted to English medium in the first phase. In a review meeting with senior officials, the CM also decided that English labs will be introduced in all government schools, and both CBSE and ICSE methods of instruction will be followed.

Last week, a government order had been passed announcing that all government, Mandal Praja Parishad (MPP) and Zilla Parishad (ZP) schools will be converted into English medium schools. The order, issued by the School Education Department, said that English will be the medium of instruction from class 1 to 8 from the academic year 2020-21. For class 9 and 10, English would be the medium of instruction from 2021-22, the order said.

The decision to introduce English as medium of instruction is one among many other major reforms in education announced by the YSRCP government, apart from the ‘Nadu-Nedu’ programme to improve school infrastructure, and the ‘Amma Vodi’ scheme, which provides an annual financial assistance of Rs 15,000 to mothers or guardians of poor school-going children.

The government order had triggered criticism from various groups and oppositions parties in the past week. While some groups criticised the government for taking such a huge step without sufficient groundwork, others complained that it could adversely affect poor children and lead to dropouts.

Speaking about the issue, Leader of Opposition and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu said, “We must learn English for career ... If we don’t protect our language, the Telugu community will lose its presence. We will lose our identity. Taking such a decision without sufficient preparation is not right.”

BJP state president Kanna Lakshminarayana wrote to the CM asking him to review the decision, complaining that the state was doing ‘injustice’ to the Telugu language. He also pointed out that it would be difficult for teachers to switch to English as the medium of instruction in such a short time, and that the transition would be especially hard on poor students from rural areas who might drop out of school as a result.

On Friday morning, several people’s associations gathered at the Telugu Talli statue in front of the Tummalapalli Kalakshetram in Vijayawada, demanding that the government revoke its decision to remove Telugu as the medium of instruction in government schools and return to the status quo. The protesters put forward the same arguments about the danger of dropouts, while also arguing that at the primary level children can easily understand several concepts better in their mother tongue and express their opinions and feelings better in their mother tongue according to language experts. Representatives from the State University Employees’ Association, DYFI, SFI and others were part of the protest.

Protest in front of Telugu Talli statue in Vijayawada demanding that Telugu medium must be continued 

TNM spoke to education activists to understand the validity of these opposing claims.

Is it a ‘threat’ to Telugu language and identity?

Activist and academic Prof Kancha Ilaiah says that the argument about danger or injustice to the Telugu language does not hold water. “These so-called intellectuals making such arguments, they themselves send their children to English medium schools. If their children are not contributing to Telugu, why are they expecting the rural SC, ST, OBC children to do it?” he questions.

Responding to Naidu’s criticism, YSRCP Rajya Sabha MP Vijayasai Reddy had also retaliated along similar lines.

“You send your children to English medium schools. But poor children must study in Telugu. They must not rise to a higher status. Father and son (Naidu and Lokesh) are fuming that they must not go abroad for higher studies. I challenge them to provide a Telugu medium education for Devansh (Lokesh’s son),” his tweet in Telugu said.

The protesters at the Telugu Talli statue on Friday morning lamented that it was ‘alarming’ that there would be ‘no place for the Telugu language’ in schools in the Telugu state. But the new policy does mandate that Telugu will be a compulsory subject, and in some cases Urdu, based on necessity.

“Just like the children of these people who are complaining, poor children will also study Telugu as one subject. Whether the critics are from the BJP or TRS or Communist parties or Congress, their children are in English medium private schools,” says Ilaiah.

Education activist Prof Haragopal, however, argues that while having a uniform medium of instruction is a great equaliser, the government must be promoting Telugu as the medium of instruction across schools, instead of English. “We have to ask the fundamental question about the objective of education. Educated people need to be able to contribute in a meaningful way to their immediate society, and not simply be a cog in the international markets and imperialist institutions,” he says.

Haragopal says that while having an English education does give a disproportionate advantage in accessing opportunities, English must be learned on the side for that purpose. “Educated people also go back into various professions, like government jobs, teaching, medicine, etc. Such professions need to be in touch with the people and their culture and language, which is currently not the case. There’s a chance of educated professionals becoming alienated from the people,” he says, adding that there is a need for intellectuals who speak and write in Telugu, without whom any knowledge produced can become alienated from the public.

Will it force poor children to drop out?

Ilaiah says that children learning in English medium in a rural setting while living with their parents, and coupled with the Amma Vodi financial assistance, is going to bring about a radical shift in the education system. “The argument that children from rural areas or children of non-literate parents cannot learn English is nonsensical. Children in my village are all first generation literates who are doing very well in academics. They speak better English than children in private schools in Hyderabad,” he argues.

Vara Prasad Yadav, State President of the Andhra Pradesh OBC Welfare Association, in a statement recalled that nearly 15 years ago, when a similar transition was proposed through the Guntur Municipal Corporation, it was opposed by the teachers’ association whose leadership was predominantly upper caste. “Teachers from marginalised communities are kept away from leadership roles. The association members who kept poor and marginalised children away from English education would send their own children to English medium schools,” he says, insisting that the switch to English medium was beneficial to SC, ST, BC and minority children.

Haragopal, however, argues that children learn from experience, which is then translated into knowledge, and not the other way around. “A child must first knows it’s called ‘chinta chettu’, before identifying it as a ‘tamarind tree’. English will have to be learned through Telugu,” he says.

But Ilaiah says that although transitional problems are likely to happen, it has worked well in the past. “In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, such transitions have happened before. When former CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy introduced English medium in 2006, there were similar doubts. But now when you look at Telangana, 80% government schools have parallel English medium sections. 82% of Telangana students are in English medium schools now, both government and non-government.”

Ilaiah argues that once students are given the necessary books and learning material, there is enough instruction happening, and other existing challenges like infrastructure are dealt with, then the transition can be made easier.

Can teachers be trained in time?

The APSCERT has been instructed to complete the required training for all teachers by the summer of 2020. Several of the opponents argue that not enough groundwork has been done to implement the move, and that training the teachers to switch to English as the medium of instruction in such a short time is very difficult.

Haragopal also argues that the implementation will be a challenge. “How will lakhs of teachers suddenly start to teach in English? It’ll become a quandary. Education quality will go down, children will suffer and learn neither English nor Telugu. This is a very short-sighted policy,” he says.

But Ilaiah says that if the teachers cannot teach in English, they would’ve been unfit to teach in Telugu as well. “Even in Telangana, now new teachers were recruited for the transition. All the present teaching staff have completed at least graduation and BEd. So they have all studied English as one subject, as we had done earlier, but with much better exposure to English now with the internet and television channels. If they have not picked up that level of English, they cannot teach in any other language either,” he argues.

Haragopal insists that learning in Telugu is important to be connected to the people. “Look at the politicians from TRS or YSRCP, how many of them are fluent in English? Could they have become popular leaders without being good orators in Telugu? KCR had to speak the people’s language, in the Telangana dialect, to become popular,” he argues.

But considering the current inequality in education in government and private schools, Ilaiah says that the move will bring students from all schools to a level-playing field. “All of these challenges can be taken care of. I think the Andhra experiment is going to change the whole discourse around school education in India,” he says.