The first school I attended was what is quaintly called a “convent school” in India. My parents, both IAS officials, were posted in Varanasi and happened to choose that school.
When you are a pre-schooler, most of the things you learn stick with you. “Convent school” in India is a complex code and marker of the medium of instruction, which is English.
Wanting to get the best possible education for your child, preferably in English, cuts across all social boundaries and unites all Indian parents.
If a politician promised and then kept her promise to set up good English medium schools for our kids, she would get elected for life.
So why did the first National Education Policy issued in 28 years cause controversy and heartburn with its suggestion of a three-language formula two of which have to be Indian languages?
Well for the simple reason that the Modi government and the wider Sangh Parivar it draws its people from, are seen as champions of Hindi in line with their world view “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan”.
Interestingly, while being votaries of Hindi as a medium of instruction as it is in the Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools run by the Sangh, half a dozen Modi ministers have sent their children for higher education abroad. The list includes Piyush Goyal, Prakash Javdekar, Dr Harshvardhan, Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman, S Jaishankar, Ganjendra Singh Shekhawat, Sanjay Dhotre, Hardeep Puri and Ravi Shankar Prasad.
This exhaustive list tells you all you need to know about the global edge an English education gives you. And how much English as a medium of instructions helps in jobs across sectors such as Information Technology and Business Process Outsource. English is the link language of choice across Indian states both in the private sector and the government in states like Tamil Nadu.
Even the much ballyhooed one Indian market cannot operate unless enterprises across states use one common language. Will business enterprise be doomed to state silos?
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Arguably is English even a foreign language in India as like most countries where it has spread, a local version has sprung up and spoken and used. The three-language formula will be easy for rich and privileged parents who already ensure their kids are learning even Mandarin and Spanish as the language of the future. But for poor parents the divide will only grow. West Bengal, under Left rule tried this experiment, and left a generation of kids ill equipped for jobs.
Whether the Sangh likes it or not, English is seen as an aspirational language in India with parents desperate for their kids to learn it. I have spent countless hours teaching kids of our help English across the years.
My mother tongue is Hindi/Awadhi and even Urdu which I understand, but can’t write in, but that does not make me love English any less. The idea should always be to learn more not to create a complex-ridden world view.
Is the angst against English due to some leaders lack of fluency in it?