After Andhra, English medium in schools trigger debate in Telangana

The decision of the Telangana government to introduce English medium in all government schools in the state from academic year 2022-23 has triggered a debate on whether the move is practical and will it really benefit the students.

While the decision of the cabinet has been welcomed by and large, all the stakeholders are still waiting for the government to frame the guidelines to implement the decision.

The state cabinet at its meeting on January 18 decided to introduce English medium in all government schools. It constituted an 11-member sub-committee headed by education minister P Sabita Indra Reddy to prepare modalities for the same. The members include information technology and industry minister K. T. Rama Rao.

Telangana has apparently taken a cue from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh which made English medium education from primary to high schools compulsory. The Andhra Pradesh high court, however, struck down the order in April 2020 and the state government has challenged the order in the Supreme Court.

Unlike in Andhra Pradesh where the move to introduce English medium evoked strong reaction from opposition parties and various groups which dubbed it as an attempt to do away with Telugu language and culture, Telangana is less likely to see a similar situation. However, students, parents and academicians are all waiting to see the guidelines to be framed to implement the decision.

Some sections are questioning the move on the grounds of practicability, an apparent reference to lack of adequate number of English teachers in government schools, especially in rural areas.

Unlike its twin Telugu state, Telangana is not likely to replace Telugu medium schools with English medium ones. Sources in the education department hinted that the government schools may have both English and Telugu mediums. It will be up to the parents to decide which medium they want for their children.

English medium schools in the government sector will not be something entirely new in Telangana as the state already has about 3,000 government schools with English as the medium of instruction. There are about 20 lakh students studying in 26, 065 government schools in the state

An official pointed out that the decision to introduce English medium in government schools gels with the state government’s emphasis to create better employment opportunities in a knowledge-based economy. “There is a growing realization that students who studied from Telugu medium schools are lagging in the skill sets required for new jobs in several sectors, especially those related to emerging technologies,” he said.

The state already runs the Telangana State Academy of Knowledge and Skills (TASK) in partnership with the corporate sector to impart necessary skills to students passing out of government-run educational institutions. Lack of communication in English is seen as a major impediment for these students to acquire new skills and be job-ready.

Another factor which may have led to the decision is the increase in enrolment of students in English medium government schools, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. The closure of several low-budget English schools due to the pandemic has increased the demand for government schools. The slump in the income of parents under the impact of the pandemic has also forced them to send their wards to government-run schools.

“English is a language which is acclaimed in many countries of the world. The government of Telangana has indeed come out with a wonderful idea to impart education to students in English medium. We will definitely be creating more competitive Indians who will help Telangana and India on the global front,” said Sunir Nagi, Principal, Pallavi Model School, Alwal and treasurer of Hyderabad schools sahodaya complex (CBSE).

The National Backward Classes Welfare Association (NBCWA) has welcomed the government’s move. NBCWA president R. Krishnaiah is of the view that introducing English medium of instruction in 26,000 government schools would benefit about 15 lakh SC, ST, BC and minorities students, who otherwise, were not in a position to pursue English medium education in private schools.

He pointed out that many poor families were ending up in debt, by disposing off small properties to educate their children in the English medium in private schools, “The government’s decision would help such families get their kids educated in English medium,” he said.

“It’s the choice between the devil and the deep sea because a lot of research in young children’s learning clearly shows that children are better off studying in their mother tongue, however the initial benefits will sustain only if children continue to learn and work using the mother tongue as happens in Europe, China, Japan or any English speaking nation. Unfortunately in none of the Indian languages including Hindi we have developed a language to take care of higher education and work. We don’t have vocabulary to handle engineering or medical professions among others. So when a student transitions to English language for these purposes it takes away all the benefits of early education in the vernacular,” said Ramakrishna Reddy, founder and head, Manthan International School.

Does it mean learning in English from early years is the way out? “Not necessarily as language learning involves creating the entire language rich environment of listening and speaking in the language before a child can learn to read and write. For a majority of students studying in government schools, this isn’t possible neither at home nor in school. The English teachers alone won’t suffice for the purpose even if they are good. The training of subject teachers in English is another big challenge, which can be surpassed but only with huge investment and sustained focus. Language labs, libraries with good story books and audio video resources will be required to make children comfortable with a foreign language. Do we have the will and the resources?,” he asked

Many feel that a hybrid approach will be the best. “Research has shown that for children below 10 years it is very good if they learn in their mother tongue. However I can understand the government intention as parents are keen on English medium as all jobs are available only with English. So a hybrid approach is the best. Up to class 5 let the medium be Telugu with English as second language and post class 5 the medium of instruction can be English,” said Dinesh Victor, MD of SIP Academy, India’s biggest skill development organisation in children.

SIP Academy director Sarala believes that rural school children would find it difficult to study through English medium and even finding a school teacher locally would be challenging.

“This could be given as additional option for children and parents to choose as this is more futuristic . Only fear that this should not lead to more school dropouts at primary level schooling . However teaching in English medium from higher secondary onwards would help in developing their confidence,” she said.

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