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'Haan-ji' might replace 'hello' in Bradford schools

There is a proposal to encourage Asian students in Bradford to speak in their mother tongue in classrooms instead of English.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2003 12:21 IST

Britain's policies of multiculturalism are set to touch a new high with proposals to encourage Asian students in Bradford to speak in their own mother tongue in classrooms instead of English.

But the proposals, intended to prevent alienation of pupils who find it difficult to speak in English, have already drawn flak from the Asian community. Many feel this may lead to further 'ghettoisation' of Asians.

Under the proposals, Asian students in Bradford of mainly Pakistani origin would be encouraged to use Punjabi, Urdu or other languages in school.

There are fears that the hitherto common "hello" might be replaced by "haan-ji" in schools, and English might eventually become a foreign language to such students.

Bradford's education officers believe the initiative was essential to make what are considered formidable school environs for ethnic minorities more in tune with their home cultural environment.

The officers are basing their novel initiative on the statistic that a third of Bradford's students speak languages other than English at home.

According to the proposal, "No child should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he/she crosses the school threshold.

"Nor should children be expected to live and act as though school and home represent two separate and different cultures which have to be kept firmly apart."

Kay Lindley, head teacher of a school that caters to mostly Asian children, said her students came to school with only one language, Punjabi.

"Some of the parents have been educated here and know English, but won't teach it to their children. They leave it for us to do when the child is five, which is not the best time to start doing this," she said.

Ann Cryer, an MP, is known for her strong feelings about immigrants learning English. She blames arranged marriages for poor levels of English among Asians, who bring one partner from the Indian subcontinent and who is often found to be less familiar with English and English culture.

"To do something about this you have to arrange marriages within the settled community in Britain, so that both mom and dad know English and are often well educated," Cryer said.

The proposals have also divided Asians.

Jeevan Chopra of Manchester feels allowing languages other than English as the main language in schools "would be too much". It might adversely affect other students in classes who are familiar with English.

"We seem to be forgetting that we live in Britain, and if we have chosen to live in this country, then it is our responsibility as parents to ensure that we can speak the national language, and that we also teach our children how to as well," he said.

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 21:33 IST