It's not fashion - It's all about Hope

By Cleofato A Coutinho
12 May 2011 20:53 IST

The medium of instruction issue that has dogged the political establishment for some time now is threatening to divide our society on communal lines.  On one side is the traditional argument of identity and culture and the demand for English as a medium of instruction is due to the cultural alienation of Goans and on the other side is fear of being left behind in this competitive world.

There can be no argument that a child develops skills best in the mother tongue and local language.  There can be no doubt that the local language contribute to the framing of state identity. Folk songs, folk stories are always told in month tongue. From the time of independence the government of India has recommended   medium of instruction at the primary level to be in the regional language. The constitutional scheme of replacing English as the official language also did not work out for various reasons.

In Goa except a few schools whose general ratings is otherwise high, the schools with primary education in mother tongue have consistently lost students to the English Medium Primary schools. The English medium primary schools have mushroomed in the state in such a way that the primary schools in regional languages including the Diocesan schools have been loosing the students to private English schools.  A great divide is created in the state between the have-nots forced to opt for regional language primary schools due to economic reasons while the haves opt for English Medium Primary Schools. G.R. Singbal (Goa Today) tells us that his maid is in Goa with her husband because she wants her children to study in English Medium Primary School. Dr. F.C. Colaco the activist Cardiologist tells me that his ex-maid Kala regrets one thing in life that she cannot send her children to English Medium Primary School in Belgaum due to paucity of funds. Make no mistake about it. Every have not’s major wish is English Medium Education. Fr. Rumaldo the India’s acclaimed Educationist says “…do not look at the past, look to the future…”. He further says that the inevitable consequence of the present system is the creation of a two tier society in this state comprising of those who can afford and who will exercise their right to choose and of those who cannot afford and have no choice but to stay at the lower tier of the society.  Throwing up of a few names like Dr. Mashelkar, Dr. Laximan Rao Sardessai, Bakibab Borkar etc. cannot counter the perception that  the transition to English is not difficult.

If primary education in mother tongue is for preservation of culture and identity, that burden has fallen on the shoulders of the have nots. The haves are simply not bothered about these issues and whether the child would integrate better with the society with the primary education in the language.

Liberlization has contributed in a big way to the way we have started looking at things; The way we live, love, study, work, earn, spend, save pray, play and think have taken new dimensions and in these times English has attained new importance as it is the widely spoken language in the world. There can be no argument on it being essential to the growth in science, biology, engineering and technology. English is seen as a language of opportunities and as a widow to the international front. Secondly higher education including secondary education is in English. That primary education should not matter since the integration from primary to secondary in English is never a problem for a child is an argument not finding takers with both haves and haves nots. 

Throughout the country the question of shifting to English as the medium of instruction is gaining momentum. The parents are seeing hope in English. That may not be entirely correct but that is their perception. To say that it has become a fashion is only to insult the parents who see a hope in the future. Hope may have ambition as its younger brother and it is this hope and ambition that across the board, parents are investing in. It is this hope that the parents invest admist adverse economic, social and political circumstances. It is exactly like shifting to Urban areas from rural areas in the hunt for a better living, though the village itself may also provide for a living. Education is traditionally seen as the main means available for upward mobility which has always been a  preserve of the few. Today with the expansion of educational avenues and variety of carrier options success has come to the door step of certain deprived sections. A dominant section of dalit community led by Chandraban Prasad Singh advocates only English language for the Dalits’ upward mobility. He feels Hindi has let the dalit down. His perception may not be right but that is his hope for the future of dalits. 

Over 50 years of the medium of instruction in the regional language being prescribed after setting up of the Radhakrishnan Commission (1948-49) the country has failed in countering the perception that a person from vernacular medium to higher education finds it comparatively difficult and since the past two decades this trend has become decisive due to the effects of globalization.

 In fact one of the greatest proponent of medium of instruction in mother tongue  Dr. U.R. Anantmurthi says “I believe we must teach at least two languages in our schools-our mother tongue and English. I am not against English, we do need to learn it since it is today the global language. But I would give equal importance to teaching in our mother tongue as well. We need English to keep in touch with the world and we need to keep in touch with the world and we need out mother tongue to keep in touch with our roots”. He further adds “I have often talked of an analogy of a house with the frontal portion and the backyard. In the front there is a sitting area where guests are entertained, business gets transacted, intellectual discussions take place. And on the back there are ladies working in the kitchen, doing household work, telling stories to children. I believe both these parts are equally important and you cannot have one without the other. The front part helps us to keep pace with the modernity while the backyard helps us to maintain our traditions, our roots”. That is not being dogmatic but pragmatic about a given situation. We all need to take a second look at our stated position in light of new situations (I have taken!).

We would all wish to give our local language the frontal position in the house but the reality of today’s times is different. Much can be done in ensuing that the mother tongue remains firmly rooted. May be even without the medium of instruction being in that language.

The richness of our language will grow irrespective of the medium of instruction as long a people love and nurture. The language has survived centuries of oppression. In fact despite the decree banning the use of language our language flowered Konkani being the spoken language will not die of if the medium of instruction is shifted to English, but if there is a fear that could happen may be a solution also has to be found. A mid way path would have to be sought between English and the verncular debate while addressing the plus points and the minus points. May be the there language formula have to be modified.  

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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