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Debate continues over making English as medium of instruction in K’taka govt schools

Backing HD Kumaraswamy’s proposed plan, Deputy CM G Parameshwara said, “We will follow a three-language formula and teach children English, in addition to Kannada.”

Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy continues to mull over the question of whether government primary schools in the state will adopt English as the medium of instruction  in the next academic year. Speaking at an event in Bengaluru, Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara backed Kumaraswamy’s proposed plan.

“Karnataka is a progressive state. We need to teach English to gain international and national competitiveness. In the 21st century, we need to protect our regional language and dialect and at the same time, we have to be competitive. We will follow a three-language formula and teach children English, in addition to Kannada,” G Parameshwara said.

Parameshwara reiterated the words of Kumaraswamy on the issue. “This is a question of the education of our children. We are ready to give the poor in the state quality education in government schools and it is not right to deprive one section of children of quality education,” Kumaraswamy said speaking at the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana,  a government-sponsored annual literary event held in Dharwad recently.

The Department of Primary and Secondary Education is yet to announce a policy but the officials have studied the way English was introduced in government schools in Kerala and are taking steps to train teachers to implement the move in the next academic year.

Divided opinions

The proposed move invited divided opinions, with pro-Kannada activists fiercely criticising it.

“English should be taught but the medium of instruction should be Kannada. Even in private schools, Kannada should be the first language and if English becomes the medium of instruction in government schools, Kannada will lose relevance in Karnataka,” opined SG Siddaramaiah, Chairperson of the Kannada Development Authority.

Several Kannada literary figures, including Chandrashekhar Patil (Champa), Dalit poet Siddalingaiah, Kannada Sahitya Parishat President Manu Baligar, scholar M Chidananda Murthy and freedom fighter HS Doreswamy, also opposed the proposed move at the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana.

“Those who come forward to light the lamp of Kannada and protect the language will be in turn protected by it. Those who do not protect Kannada, nobody will protect them. We will agitate against them”, said poet Chandrashekar Patil (Champa) who got into a war of words with the Chief Minister at the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana programme.

The move also goes against the stance adopted by the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government. During his tenure, the state government had made learning Kannada compulsory after it lost a legal battle in the Supreme Court to make Kannada as the medium of instruction. The state government also introduced English in government schools as a subject.

However, it was only in the budget revealed by the coalition government in July 2018 that the plan to introduce English in 1,000 schools, particularly in primary schools, in the state came to light.

Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who is the head of the Coalition Coordination Committee, constituted to oversee the smooth running of the government, has also criticised the move. “Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has said that 1,000 English-medium schools will be started in the state from the next academic year. I will discuss this with him,” he tweeted.

But given Deputy CM Parameshwara’s defence of the coalition government’s proposal, it appears that the disagreements within the Congress party will do little to block any policy change.

English as a medium of instruction will not be introduced in 1,000 schools as earlier stated. In the first phase, over 100 schools have been identified where English will be the medium of instruction. This will take effect as early as June this year when the new academic year begins. The education department is preparing to train teachers and have no plans to hire teachers from private schools to implement the change. Although there is a dearth of qualified instructors in English, the education department has trained selected primary school teachers in English in the last two years.

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