States realize English is what people want

It's not just parents across India who are confused about the time and importance to be given to education in English and the vernacular; the latest data from NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) reveals our education establishment is just as perplexed, with very little uniformity in the way regional languages are treated.

The NCERT study, which examines classes per week at both the Class V and Class VIII levels, states that while schools in Maharashtra have set aside 13 classes a week at both levels for Marathi, the highest in the country for the vernacular, the weekly school timetable in Nagaland includes only three lectures for the local language at the Class V level, and in a small number of districts in Arunachal Pradesh, only four to five periods are allocated per week for the regional tongue in Class VIII.

Almost 30% states devote six to seven periods a week in Class V for teaching the local language, the study says.

Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh are next to Maharashtra in emphasizing the importance of the native tongue, with 12 classes per week at the Class V level.

"At the Class VIII level, most states have allocated more than six periods," said SK Yadav, author of the study called the National Study on Ten Year School Curriculum Implementation.

The NCERT Curriculum Framework had, in 1975, recommended setting aside 25% of the total weekly teaching hours or eight periods per week for the regional language. This was raised to 30% in 1988. It was then recommended that 32% of total teaching time be set aside.

In spite of this, English seems to be scoring. Introduced towards the middle of elementary school, it is now offered at the Class I level in 26 states, making it clear that most states have realized that that is what people want.

"In general, parents have started sending their children to public schools and not to government schools. In the Framework of 2005, it is mentioned that introduction of English is now a matter of response by the people and less an academic or feasibility issue," Yadav said.

In fact, many states have rewritten the school timetable and upgraded English in the last two years by redirecting some of the classes set aside for regional languages for English. Educationist J M Abhyankar said the State Council for Education Research and Training has now assigned 4.5 hours for Marathi and 5 hours for English.

Classes earmarked for teaching of English in Class VIII vary from five to nine per week in different states. In almost a third of the states, English is taught for six periods a week, while states like Chandigarh, Lakshadweep, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have provided seven periods. In Jammu and Kashmir, a maximum of nine periods have been allotted for the teaching of English per week.

Linguist Peggy Mohan said, "What we have created is an India where the elite have decamped to English, leaving it to the poor to keep our languages 'warm' for us in our absence. It is not surprising, then, that the poor have decided to follow us up the food chain into the privileged world of English."

Mohan added, "While they (parents) may know they are abandoning their heritage by putting their children early into English-medium private schools, they are sanguine about this, choosing to survive in the present milieu over being the reluctant custodians of local languages that have given them precious little in terms of livelihood in return for loyalty."
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