MoI in the context of social reality

By Cleofato A Coutinho
29 October 2013 19:41 IST

The maintenance of status quo by the Parivartan government had angered the opponents of the policy of giving grants to English medium primary schools from the past policy of grants only to Regional Language primary schools. The announcement of the consultative committee headed by the Chief Minister to make recommendations to the government on the medium of instruction at the primary and pre-primary level in Goa has brought the issue on the table again. (The pre-primary level is opening up of yet another Pandora’s box in the matter of grants and medium of instruction!)

Though the recommendations of the consultative committee advisory committee are not binding on the government, the fact that the committee is headed by the Chief Minister who is also the education minister leaves no doubt that it is that the committee shall finally decide the fate of the next generation learners.

At the National level though there is not much of a dispute over the government policy on grants in government run or government aided schools, the issue over whether government can force a medium of instruction in unaided private institutions has come under sharp focus particularly in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The post liberalization era powered by the service sector boom led to the growth of the shift to English as a medium of instruction mushrooming English medium private schools. The upwardly mobile English seeking class is now seen as a ‘soul destroying’ class by those who claim to own the area of nationalism. The economically and socially disadvantaged and particularly the dalits see acquisition of knowledge and skill of English as a means to upward mobility.

In Goa prior to the previous government’s shift to grants for all policy there were 135 English medium primary schools with 80332 students, 933 Marathi Medium Primary School with 76782 student and 206 Konkani Medium Schools with 65168 students. Of the 206 Konkani Medium Schools 127 schools were run by the Diocesan Society of Education where the bulk of students came with 67 governments schools having only 3912 students. During the academic year 94-95 there were 238 Konkani, 1030 Marathi and 46 English Medium Primary Schools in Goa (List of Educational Institution in Goa 2009-2010).

Post 1991, as the effect of economical liberalization as taking effect in the country ( after 1995), we in Goa also started seeing a boom in the English Medium primary Schools, particularly at the cost of Konkani Medium Primary Schools, though the Marathi Medium Schools have also suffered. The Diocesan society which was almost forced to shift their medium to Konkani to be entitled to the grants to pay the teachers, the salaries on par with government primary teachers face the heat. The Konkani Medium Diocesan schools were losing out the English Medium unaided primary Schools that brought the grants for English Medium primary School to the fore. It was actually a social reality!

A 1994 Karnataka government’s order revising Medium of Instruction at primary level in all schools recognized by the government prescribing Kannada or the mother tongue was held not applicable to schools other than schools run or aided by the government by the Karnataka High Court. The Karnataka government’s plea against the High Court’s Judgement was heard by the Supreme Court which though it fit to refer the matter to the constitution bench.

The present Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Rajan Gogoi though were seized with a different issue-whether making Kannada or mother tongue compulsory in unaided private schools, went much beyond the actual issue and referred to the constitution bench the question whether the state government could impose the mother tongue or a regional language as the only medium of instruction in primary schools. Justice Sathasivam said “…the issue involved in this case concerns about the fundamental rights of not only the present generation but also the generations yet to be born”.

The court framed five questions to be considered by the constitution bench, the first two questions being as under

(i)What does Mother tongue mean? If it referred to as the language in which the child is comfortable with, then who will decide the same?

(ii) Whether a student or a parent or a citizen has a right to choose a medium of instruction at primary stage?

The above two questions shall in a way also address the issue that has raised the dust and din in Goa for the past more than 2 years. The Hon’ble Supreme court opined that the question involved in the petition was vital with far reaching significance on the development of children in our country who are the future adults. The court said that the primary stage schooling moulds the thinking process and tutors on the communication skills and lays the ground work for future learning and success.

The court was conscious of the fact that the importance of the language cannot be understated but opined that skills and values at primary education skills are no less than the foundation and save as a base for all future learning and called for early disposal of the case.

The Supreme Court, the court was seized with the vexed case where the state government would recognize Primary schools in mother tongue or Kannada while the parents and the schools wanted to impart primary education in the English language. The vital question posed by the Supreme Court is who decides what is good for the child. If one does not want one’s child to study in a particular language and wants him or her to study in another language which wish is declined by the government

The answers two of the five questions raised by the Supreme Court shall go a long way in guiding the consultative committee announced by the Goa government. The answers could also give an indication as to whether the government could deny grants to schools which do not follow regional language as a medium of instruction thus forcing the parents to shift to private unaided schools. Medium of instruction will have to be understood in the social context and social realities of hope and aspiration, not necessarily in the traditional arena of language and culture.


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

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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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