Song for English: Bread, Butter & Beyond

By Prabhakar Timble
31 May 2011 21:23 IST

The language issue in India has continued to remain a dividing as well as a unifying force. Career, employment, opportunities of higher learning   and   the need for the cutting edge in a competitive world is normally, though not rightly is associated with the command and proficiency over the English language. The basic and critical skills needed for success to reach the top of the ladder in any sphere and in any part of the globe is knowledge, analytical abilities, the spirit of inquiry, commitment to cause  and multi-skills including multi-communication skills.  Language forms a micro and mini part of the art of communication. However, we love to board the wrong horse. 

 Questions of culture, identity and natural love for the language of the soil have unified the people to espouse the cause of the vernacular and local language. There are myths surrounding both the above stands.

The language debate is there since the time we adopted the Constitution. We have nearly 22 national languages in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution along with Hindi as official language and English as associate official language. History has taught us that development is associated with both preservation and destruction. Both conservation and elimination are concomitants of growth and development. The intelligence lies in selection of what needs to be chopped off and what needs to be taken forward along with development of individual and society.

Goa would be the famous or infamous state for succumbing to the pressure of muscle and electoral equations by providing grants to English medium private schools at the primary stage of education. Perhaps, Goa is the only state in our multi-lingual country using the public exchequer to directly support primary education in a language other than mother-tongue or native language. Another exception to this is the north-eastern state of Nagaland. The policy of grants at the primary level of education announced by the Digambar Kamat led Congress government also provides for English medium in government schools. The policy also clears the decks for recognition to additional private primary schools in English medium, if a demand is made by the parents at specific locations.

All was well and running fine with the grants-in-aid policy of 1990 evolved for primary schools. Earlier to this, no grants were provided at the primary stage of education. 1990 was a give and take transaction and hence a win-win situation for all the stakeholders i.e. the government, teachers, private managements, parents, students and also the State as a whole. The main private player i.e. the Diocesan Society of Education (DSE) which runs over hundred primary schools benefited, so also the State in taking forward the agenda of the mother-tongue and native language at the primary level. It was painful for the DSE to make the switch over to Konkani in Devanagiri script knowing well that majority of parents patronising their schools are uncomfortable, their home tongue being Konkani but written in the Roman script.

This grants-in-aid policy continued for twenty years. It contributed to assimilation and generated a fresh army of youth across communities. It was a quantum jump for Konkani and Goa. No stakeholder lost in the bargain. However, the government loose approach to provide recognition to additional English medium schools at primary level over this long period bringing their number to 140 resulted in unfair competition to the primary schools in the vernacular. The DSE primary schools were losing hold on their main catchment segment. If the government had followed a liberal and open policy of recognition of additional primary schools in the vernacular, the graph would probably have been different. But, new schools in the vernacular were not allowed so as to provide protection to the existing government and private schools in the vernacular medium.

DSE moved the government for providing grants to English medium at primary level to engineer a switch over.  Stealthily putting the group of parents forward projecting the demand as the freedom of choice of medium, an agitation took shape to liberate from the regional medium.

If the fear was of the child remaining ill-equipped in English to face the global competition in employment and higher studies, the policy announcement by the Education Minister in the recently concluded budget session of the Goa Assembly was a well thought and intentioned alternative. This was to strengthen English language teaching at the primary level with provision of additional teacher. Undoubtedly, this needs to be further supplemented by teacher training, scientific language learning manuals and reading materials for children. This step forward to alleviate the fears was another win-win situation for all stakeholders

The grants-in-aid policy finally announced, though temporarily has cooled the tempers of the vocal parents in parts of Salcete, Bardez and Tiswadi, is likely to make all stakeholders unhappy with the passage of time. The State of Goa is rendered faceless. The Government of Goa admits that they do not have a policy on grants to primary schools. Anyone can open the primary educational shop they desire and the government would finance and sponsor. The parents who were fighting for grants for English medium schools many not decipher the loss at this moment. Children will lose immense opportunities of natural learning, self-learning, peer learning, playful learning and this will be more so in case of children of the less privileged, the rural and the urban poor. For them the school is an alien land rather than an extension of home. Though, the choice and option of vernacular medium exists, the inferiority complex will drive them to English medium. With the stamp of the government on English, those who pursue primary education in English would be viewed as fools, jokers and fanatics. They can be also victims of discriminatory treatment by schools and teachers once they enter the secondary stage of education.

I do not visualise a threat to culture and identity of Goa and Goans due to a grants-in-aid policy at primary level of education. However, the threat looms large due to unimaginative tourism development, reckless real estate investments, land transfers and acquisitions, unscientific mining resulting in adverse effect on agriculture, occupations and water resources. The threat to culture and identity also flows from the growing migration of educated Goans to neighbouring states in search of employment opportunities. Many of our youth are forced to migrate against their wish due to absence of avenues in the State. To preserve culture and identity, these are the areas of concern. Though culture and identity is sublime when expressed in the native language, it has less to do with language.

Apart from the merits and demerits of the grants to English medium primary schools, the manner in which this critical issue was decided is questionable. The approach was outright political. The Chief Minister claims of honouring the wishes of parents. The conduct and process of decision making does not corroborate this. Undoubtedly, a pure political decision based on political gains and losses would be also fought politically in the months to come.

Educationists and the vernacular activists have rightly expressed their displeasure and discontent over the policy. Some use the vocabulary of ‘appeasement’, ‘denationalisation’, ‘inquisition’, ‘anti-national’ etc. Such terms are loaded against specific communities. Politicians would be too happy to convert the present situation into capital to serve their personal electoral interests. From our past experience, we should learn that all politicians are alike. They have scant respect for language, education, culture and identity. Communal harmony and togetherness of all communities is the enemy of greedy politicians. Without harmony and sense of belonging to each other, culture and identity stand on a weak pedestal. The secular forces in all communities should remain alert to ensure that the language issue is not hijacked to divide and spread hatred among communities.

Probably, the demand for grants to English medium primary schools would never have sprung up if the 1990 policy had restricted the support to Konkani medium only. But, we have the baggage of nearly 834 government run primary schools in Marathi. They need to be kept on the rolls even without requisite strength of students to pacify the related camps.

The language of the natives in Goa has always received a drubbing. It started with the colonial rulers who were bent upon destroying whatever is local. The Church kept the language alive at that time not necessarily because of attachment to language because they could have no attachment since church was alien to Goa and following the footsteps of the colonial rulers. Konkani was the only vehicle to establish rapport and communication with the Goan masses. Marathi was given a free hand and that’s how it was on the lips of majority of Hindus. For the first 25 years after liberation, the Marathi protagonists always had an upper hand. Konkani, the language of the soil was ridiculed; the lovers of this language were branded as pro-Portuguese and pro-Church and hunted as less nationalistic.  “Let the head and the body split, we will not leave the demand for Marathi”, was the buzz statement during those times. Hindus spearheading the Konkani cause were advised to sport Cross (symbol of Christian faith) on their necks.

If the last twenty years had seen improvements in the area of teacher training courses in Konkani, better quality textbooks supported by substantial children’s literature and bridge course in English for the students in vernacular, the situation might have been different. Parents would have seen value in the proposition. To a large extent, it is the failure of teachers, school managements and the government to add value to the vernacular medium to bolster the confidence of the parents that has brought the present reversal. Emotional attachment for language was not equally backed by passion and commitment in school education.

I feel that giving a level playing field to English along with the vernacular violates equity. Freedom of choice should not chain the State exchequer or “unfree” the freedom of the State to decide on grants-in-aid. The home language medium should be made more attractive than others. This can be done by providing additional grants to vernacular medium primary schools in the form of capital assistance, substantial grants for library including audio-visual learning materials, computer laboratory, and special teachers to nurse theatre, music, art, crafts and games. If we can establish and run excellent schools, the child and the parents will sing the song of the vernacular, which in Goan context has to be Konkani.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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the burden of preserving identity should not be put only on the poor people who send their children to government schools;then where is the equity?

- krishnamurthy, vasco da gama | 20 th June 2011 12:49


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