A case for 3 language formula in Schools

It’s been 67 years since India’s independence and our people from one part of India can barely communicate with those in another part. Where have we gone wrong? Has our education policy failed us? Has education as a state subject really been suitable for a country as diverse as ours? Let’s try and revisit this issue.

State policy

Education being a state subject has failed its citizens by promoting the local language as the medium of instruction. Promotion of the local language has not helped in bringing together the people of this country and has only accentuated the differences. This has been a sensitive issue and a bone of contention between centre and respective states. The central government wanted to promote Hindi as a national language but the states, especially Southern ones, vehemently opposed the move in favour of their respective local languages. Meanwhile, the nation today has de facto adopted English as the medium of communication. And it’s here to stay, irrespective of what you think.

The problem

Andhra Pradesh alone has over 750 Engineering colleges that have mushroomed over the last two decades. The state has the highest concentration of engineering colleges, churning out the largest number of engineering graduates. But when it comes to job interviews, the young graduates are being denied opportunities for no fault of theirs.

The biggest problem that the industry faces, is finding engineering graduates that can speak in fluent English. Even basic spoken English is a major challenge. This significantly reduces the chances of selection, even if the candidate is technically competent. Those who do get selected face a major problem of communication with the local population wherever he or she may be subsequently posted. The story plays out across states in India.

The genesis of the problem lies in each state’s insistence on using the local language as the medium of instruction in state sponsored schools. As a result, a student can barely speak any English by the time he passes out of school and is restricted to his own state to pursue further studies. Is it his fault that he was forced to study in his mother tongue? While the politicians very conveniently continue to mouth regional language platitudes, their own children are sent to the best of English medium schools, in their own state or outside.

Problem common across nations

This problem is an international problem across nations. Look at China, Japan, Korea, and Brazil or for that matter any non-English speaking nation. The current generation in all these countries aspire to speak English and travel outside their national boundaries to seek job opportunities. They are all severely handicapped due to lack of English.

India in that sense is better off though the lack of English amongst the wider population is still holding India back.

The solution

States have insisted on retaining education as a state subject. They have a point in promoting their own language, history and culture and this must definitely be promoted. No debate. So can we achieve this while ensuring we address the ‘English’ issue?

A 3 language formula is both feasible and desirable. English must be the medium of instruction right from primary school. The local language must be compulsorily taught to ALL residents of the state, irrespective whether they are locals or migrants to the state. Extra classes may be included to give due focus and attention to local history and culture.

Any migrant residing in another state must be able to speak the local language fluently and must try to integrate within that society. Repeatedly, it is seen that migrants have lived in another state for several years and some were even born there and yet many of them can neither speak the local language nor do they try to integrate with the local society. This is a major cause for regional political parties to whip up regional chauvinism using language as the whipping stick. They have a point! This is where compulsory teaching of the local language in schools to ALL students will help. But the primary medium of instruction has to be English.

Hindi must be also be taught as a third language, as it will continue to grow, both in India and overseas, given its increasing popularity due to Hindi cinema and television.

If the 3 language formula were to be followed, the states’ interest in furthering the local language, history and culture, can be achieved, while ensuring that they produce English speaking students. This is absolutely imperative if India has to continue to emerge into a developed nation that is well integrated with the rest of the world. The opportunities are global and in a connected world it’s for the government, both at the centre and state level to come to consensus on this very vital issue that should have been addressed long back.

It’s time to give up short term political gains and come forward to address this problem on priority. Let’s all speak up before another generation loses out.