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Lessons in mother tongue sparks row

Critics slammed Education Minister's plan saying teaching ethnics in their mother tongue could reinforce cultural barriers.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2003 21:34 IST

A major debate is on as to whether pupils from ethnic minority communities should be taught in their languages or in English. Education Minister Stephen Twigg believes lessons in the first language of pupils from ethnic minorities will help them succeed. He highlighted one school in North London as a shining example which others should follow.

In a pilot scheme at White Hart Lane School in Tottenham, 30 Turkish children learn GCSE science in their home language for some of their lessons, separate from other pupils. English is phased in over the two-year course.

But Home Secretary David Blunkett said it was in the best interests of immigrants to learn English. Twigg was questioned about the scheme by the Commons Education Select Committee. He defended his scheme and said that it was important to engage the pupils in their mother tongue before they moved on to English.

But critics warned that increasing the number of lessons in foreign languages could reinforce cultural barriers and lead to pupils being taught away from mainstream classes. A similar initiative in the US had failed.

At present millions of pounds are being spent on bilingual classroom assistants because pupils from ethnic minorities are not being made to learn English in class. One education authority spends £4 million a year on 200-plus classroom assistants and 85 bilingual assistants helping mainly Asian pupils.

It has reportedly lowered standards instead of helping the pupils. Tory Councillor Imtiaz Ameen warned that if children were not encouraged to learn English, they would never learn English This would affect their prospects and ability to succeed in the society here. He hit out at what he said were political do-gooders.

Significantly such pupils would never be able to pass Blunkett's "Britishness" test.

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 21:33 IST