More than 2,000 primary schools in Karnataka face derecognition for what the state government considers a grave misdemeanour. The schools had been granted permission to run if their medium of instruction was Kannada. The schools, however, opted for English. The government threatened them with closure earlier this year, which saw 1,011 schools file appeals in court. Now, the court has upheld the decision to bring into force a voluntary disclosure scheme where these schools will have to teach class 1 students in the current batch in Kannada or face derecognition.
Languages, and especially the medium of instruction in schools, have always lent themselves to political play. There is no denying that at the primary level, a child’s learning skills are supposed to be enhanced if the medium of instruction is in the local/ mother tongue. However, that is not to say that English is a ‘foreign’ language that has no place in schools. On the contrary, parents are usually the first ones to opt for English-medium schools. English is clearly the first language of business communication today. It is important for children to have proficient language skills as they are growing up in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, globalised world. To that end, the Karnataka government’s language policy is caught in a time warp. It is one thing to offer instruction in Kannada as a choice that student and parents can exercise, and quite another to deny a student English as a preferred language of instruction. While for children from under-privileged backgrounds and first-generation learners, instruction in the mother tongue is usually the best way ahead for integration, along with tuition for picking up English-language skills, this is clearly not going to happen in the schools that face derecognition.
The state should realise that any education policy must put the student’s interests at its core. What is best for a child should define the way ahead, not petty politics that clearly arise from a myopic babu culture. Discontinuation of English will be a self-defeating step, and the Karnataka government must understand that this will lead to children losing their competitive advantage.