German Scrapped from KV Schools: Language Problem Persists

Recently, there was an announcement by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to discontinue teaching of German in the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) schools as the third language and instead opt for Sanskrit. These are Central government schools in India, which come under the aegis of the MHRD. There are over 1,000 KVs in India and about three abroad.

This announcement that came mid-session of the year shocked many people. How can students who have been studying German for quite some time now suddenly switch to Sanskrit in the middle of the term, was the top-most question on everyone’s mind.

Also it must be noted that the announcement was made at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to have a high-level bilateral meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of G-20 summit in Brisbane.

KVS-Goethe Institute MOU

The HRD Ministry stuck to its stand and clarified that it was not against German being taught in KVS, but it was against German being treated as the third language. It added that it took this decision in the wake of problems related to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the KVS and the Goethe Institute, which treated German as a third language. Apparently the MoU was signed without taking the three-language policy into consideration.

Here, a brief explanation of the three-language policy is required: Indian schools follow a three-language policy in primary and secondary schools, where Hindi-speaking States will be taught three languages – Hindi, one of the modern Indian languages, preferably from a South Indian State, and English or any European language; while non-Hindi speaking schools are to be taught Hindi, one of the modern Indian languages and English or any modern European language. Usually the practice is that in Hindi-speaking States, they teach Sanskrit and in non-Hindi States, they prefer to drop Hindi. In short, the three-language policy has not been very successful in India as this country has numerous dialects and the States have not been religiously following the policy, hence adopting different language subjects that suited them the best.

While this issue continues to draw attention, let us take a quick look at the importance of learning languages in schools.

Why do students opt for foreign language

With globalization, most of the Indian companies are branching outside India. In the same breath, many foreign companies are also making their way to India. In such a scenario, it is but natural that people with knowledge of English or a foreign language stand to gain. And if they have been pursuing the language from school, their command over the language would be adequate, which would definitely help them in their career.

Language not a mere subject

Learning a language is not restricted to the language alone. As you continue to learn the subject, you get acquainted with the culture of the place, the basic nature of the people, their etiquettes, their beliefs, and so on. Besides this, there are student exchange programmes, where students pursuing a particular language are sent to that country to enhance their knowledge. All this exposure goes a long way in boosting one’s career.

So, a language in school is not restricted to simply learning a new language, but it encompasses a wider arena, where the students embrace that country’s culture too. Now, let us look at the language scene in our Indian schools.

Languages in Indian schools. How practical?

Like mentioned before, Indian schools are meant to teach Hindi and a regional language. English or a foreign language can be optional, though many schools are now treating English as a compulsory subject. While learning Hindi and a regional language is very important to maintain the culture of India, English is also fast growing to be the most-popularly spoken language in India.

If we go by the data released by the National University of Education, Planning and Administration, it shows that English medium schools have increased by a whopping 274 percent between 2003 and 2011. Rural areas have also shown growing affinity towards English medium schools and most of the parents are extremely keen that their children speak English, unlike them. This has, in turn, led to mushrooming of many English schools that may or may not have quality teachers who can teach English.

The popularity of English can also be attributed to majority of the parents, especially in urban areas, who prefer to speak to toddlers in English or rather mix English with their regional language. English is somehow becoming an unavoidable part of any dialect in India.

In such a scenario, it becomes even more necessary to have regional languages and Hindi as part of the curriculum in the schools. This would ensure that the children remain rooted to the culture somewhere. Knowing English without a strong cultural background would not complete a child’s overall personality. That is not possible. From that view point, Indian schools are doing good by laying emphasis on Hindi and local languages.

But how is this emphasis going to help students in the long run?

Sole concentration on Hindi or regional language: Let us view this from a job scenario. Students who are well-versed only in Hindi or regional languages do face stumbling blocks as they climb up the career ladder, until and unless they become acquainted with English or some other European language. Every job interview today lays emphasis on English or some European language. There would only be a handful of companies which would take candidates without knowledge of a foreign language. Job opportunities may require knowledge of local language, but English or an additional language will any day be an added benefit.

If we look at the statistics in the Information Technology sector, about one-third of the global workforce employed in top IT companies are from India. The other sectors would also have a count somewhere matching this number. We cannot ignore the fact that India is an emerging economy and these numbers entail employees who are well versed with English or some foreign language.

In such a scenario, isn’t it the growing need of the moment to have English or a European language as a compulsory subject like Hindi and the regional language? While Hindi and the regional language will re-emphasise the cultural values in a student, English or an European language will give the student global exposure, thus enabling him to move out of the periphery of his State or regions and spread his cultural values abroad.