Confusion of Medium

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
14 May 2011 09:46 IST

I feel we are confusing the ongoing issue of medium of instruction with our skills of English language. Development of language skills and medium of instruction are entirely two different issues. I went through series of articles of noted educationists from all over the world to find out whether there is any inherent inter-dependence between the two. I couldn’t find any.

As a journalist when I talk to the people supporting primary education in English medium, what I find is not hate for Konkani or mother tongue or even Goan culture, but a genuine concern for their children’s language skills. They want their children to write and speak proper English, to face the world.

This concern is not widespread only among Christian Goans, but all – the Hindus, Muslims and even migrants belonging to all religions. They want their children to prosper. Knowing English is one issue, but having best knowledge of everything is equally an important issue. They feel – you can get it BEST if the child studies in English right from the beginning.

I don’t find anything anti-national in this feeling nor do I find any anti-national tendency among the people who are demanding English medium. The confusion is about learning – Kindergarten in English, then primary in Konkani and again rest of education in English. It’s all confusing for a child as well as the parents. Aren’t the so called educationists responsible for this mess in Goa?

In 1991, the government decided not to give salary grants to English medium primary schools while also not opening government primary schools in English. To seek these salary grants, Diocesan Society’s primary schools as well as few other private managements converted overnight their English-medium schools into Konkani, without even training their teachers to teach Konkani.

What is the outcome of it in the last two decades? In may Konkani schools, Konkani is taught in English. On the other hand, the state government has given permission to over hundred English medium private primary schools, without salary grants. The wealthy and the rich thus goes to English schools and the poor goes to Konkani or Marathi medium schools. It has created a feeling of depriving poor from learning English. Aren’t educationists of Goa responsible for keeping silence over this discriminatory treatment?

And mind you, this has happened during Congress regime as well as the BJP regime. All politicians and all political parties are responsible for this mess.

But still I don’t agree that English medium is a right solution to clear this mess. Simply because English medium will not solve the basic problem – development of language skills of a child.

The reason is simple. Language of any child develops when the child learns it as a Language – a subject. It involves spelling, grammar, diction, pronunciation etc. To develop our English, we need to learn proper English, write proper English and speak proper English. Speaking Konglish is definitely not the solution for it. In fact, it spoils proper English of our children.

Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday (often M.A.K. Halliday), a British linguist who has developed an internationally influential grammar model “the systemic functional grammar", puts it in a concise manner. He categorises language in education in three ways: Learning Language, Learning through Language, Learning about Language,

In the issue of medium of instruction, I feel we are mixing these three different aspects and confusing the whole issue. Our basic concern is to Learn English. We need to develop the language skills. For this, we need to learn English as a subject – a language subject. To develop it further, we need to read English literature; not mere text books. To develop it much further, we need to write in English. And to test it, we need to speak English on public platforms, in a formal manner, not in conversations.

We also need to take some precautions so that our English is not spoiled. Because it is neither our mother tongue nor our native language. Our style and tone of speaking is Konkani. We thus need to avoid overuse of English in conversations. Because what we use in day-to-day conversations is normally a colloquial style. It’s dangerous. The result is visible. In the name of English, we in Goa today speak Konglish to each other. It does not develop our language skill of English. It invariably spoils our English. Similarly, students have now started using this colloquial Konglish in sending sms or chatting on Facebook etc. Worst than that is the sms system itself, where all kind of short-cuts are used. It’s not wrong. What’s wrong is similar sms Konglish is used while answering question papers or even while sending emails. The applications I receive for jobs are full with such Konglish; no sign of good English.

On the other hand, medium of instruction is the issue pertaining to ‘learning THROUGH language’. Learning is grasping. Learning is knowing. Learning is comprehending. The Oxford dictionary explains it in one simple line: “learning is knowledge acquired by study.” It is acquiring knowledge – of a particular subject which we study. Language, here, is just a medium. A vehicle. And obviously, we will use the best vehicle possible to reach our destination – gaining knowledge of the particular subject. We will never use the vehicle to study the vehicle or know its mechanism, spare parts etc. For that, we will join automobile engineering. Means to study English, we will study English as a subject. We will not use medium of instruction to develop our skill of English language.

In simple, if we need to learn better, we should study it in the language which we understand better. If we go by this logic, I feel education of all Goans till highschool level should be in Konkani. That’s the best vehicle to acquire knowledge. But unfortunately, we in Goa have studied either in Marathi or English. Is this the reason our dropout rate is as high as 42 per cent? Do students get fed up of studies because they just cannot comprehend the subjects properly? Are they sitting in a wrong vehicle which they cannot drive, to reach the destination – the knowledge of different subjects?

I still cannot understand why there is such a hue and cry over medium of instruction at primary level when the rest of our education is fully in English. Has any child failed in the Fifth standard after shifting from Konkani or Marathi to English? Or the failure rate starts from the Seventh standard onwards? Why the dropout rate goes high from Eighth onwards? Is it because they did not study in English from the First to the Fourth, or because they are studying in English, which makes it very difficult for them to acquire knowledge of the subjects? Does the vehicle go out of control as the speed increases?

I feel it’s basically because we learn through English when our language skill of English is not at all developed properly at school level. We are not taught English as a proper language at highschool level. It is also because we, the parents, are spoiling English of our children by conversing with them in Konglish. It is also because our children are not exposed enough to English literature. It is also because reading habits are dead and only television, MP3 player or FM channels have encompassed our lives. It is also because SMS has become our lifestyle. We are looking out for short-cuts in each and every sphere of our life. Even to develop our language skill of English, we are trying a short-cut of medium of instruction rather than concentrating more on reading literature, writing proper English and speaking proper English.

Similar is the situation of Konkani and Marathi languages in Goa. Even these languages are not taught in a scientific manner in the schools. Ultimately, this is a multilingual era. We in Goa have the best advantage of learning at least five languages here – Konkani, Marathi, Hindi, English and Portuguese. Instead of running behind a non-issue of medium of instruction to develop our language skills, if our education system concentrates more on developing our Goan children as multilingual youngsters, then we would be the BEST in the whole country.

The concern of parents of development of language skill is a genuine concern. But the solution explored for that – the medium of instruction – is completely a wrong strategy. Even if English medium private primary schools are given grants, the problem of acquiring knowledge of good English will not be solved. Because we are trying to treat the symptom, not the disease. It can be best explained in our own Konkani proverb – Khorjota Ekekoddem Ani Khorpita Dusurekoddem!

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Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of goanews.com, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of HCN and Prudent, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities.

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Previous Comments

Sandesh Prabhudessai hits bull’s eye with this piece. Sandeshbab have rightly put it by citing medium of instruction as a vehicle to reach our destination in the BEST possible manner. Yes there are people who’s medium of instruction has been other than English language and they have attained success in life. But these are exceptions. Please do not equate and treat them as examples.

We are not addressing the issue in the right manner. We are barking at the wrong tree. Different section of people who are opposing English medium as MOI are doing it for various and obvious reasons which are vaguely accepted by us in general.

It is sad to see well known senior educationists, public figures, popular artists and a lot of my friends (some are just going with the flow not even aware what the issue is) who strongly support MOI as Konkani or Marathi. Konkani is a beautiful language and has got rich history, and so is Marathi. No doubt about it. People who support English as MOI have no ill feelings towards the mother tongue.

I am too small to comment on this, but in my opinion, I think this opposition to English as MOI has got more to do with misunderstanding or insecurity or both. The governments, be it Congress, BJP or MGP all have exploited the issue and has been taking us all for a long never ending bumpy ride.

- Samir Haldankar, Dubai, UAE | 03 rd July 2011 13:47

 

AAre bab Sandesh D. Prabhudesai , USA

Your "It is upto an individual to progress once he finishes college." assumes too much.

What about the children who stop schooling after SSC?

"People who have studied in Marathi have made strides in their career and have reached places."

Forget reaching places most of them don't go beyond tenth.

- Tony Martin, Galgibaga Canacona | 03 rd July 2011 01:21

 

Dear Sandesh

I concede that your piece is well written.

But the fact is it is simply undemocratic and not fair to deny choice to parents. More so when English is the 'official' language for all official correspondence in Goa and India.

Besides, for a child who does not continue her/his education beyond the tenth how much English s/he manages to learn in six years is common knowledge. Some of my students (in Class XI) who studied primary in the Marathi medium have difficulty spelling their own names.

And if English is not the exclusive prerogative of the rich than choice is a must. As of now it looks like English is some alien language forced upon the kids. Ironically even at the panchayat level nobody ever writes a letter in Konkani or Marathi. So why the baseless discrimination I wonder?

Tony Martin

- Tony Martin, Galgibaga Canacona | 03 rd July 2011 00:46

 

Dear Mr.Sandesh Prabhudesai,

Their is need to think by every Goan in your way.Their is need to literate each and every Goan on this issue.

Parents wants to educate their children to face the present situation in Goa.

The advertisement given for the post of peon Government giving preference to the education in English.

Person who doesn't understand English is handicapped at offices,hospitals or everywhere.

their is need to throw every Non-English things in to the Mandovi.



- P. S.Bondre, Ponda | 25 th May 2011 15:34

 

If the purposem of language is communication and learning in mother tonguebrings the child closer to his surroundings, All those active in Deshi Bhasha Andolan and all those who suppport this theory should declare in public the medium of instruction at the primary level they chose for their children.

Or else it is absolutely right about itching phrase that you have ended your article with.

It can be slightly changed 'Khorjota bahujanak, Khorpita bamon',

When I say Bamon here... it is the value system and not a caste as understood by the commoners.

- Rajan Govekar, Feira Alto, Mapusa | 19 th May 2011 10:31

 

Sandesh, Very well written article.

I agree with you that we are not teaching English as a proper subject. People who have studied in Marathi have made strides in their career and have reached places. It is upto an individual to progress once he finishes college.

I am all for education in Konkani from KG until 1oth grade. I hope government and people agree and Konkani MOI is accepted.

- Sandesh D. Prabhudesai, USA | 19 th May 2011 04:01

 

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