Education Speaks A Different Language

Semi-english medium schools in Maharashtra look towards a brighter future for all. What is the language of India? Officially we have got it down to Hindi with an option of English. The 2001 census records 30 different languages spoken by over a million people each and if you work your way down the chart you’ll end up with a staggering sum total of 1625, and all of these further spun into a million local argots. The formal, official, stamp paper India is but a mere subsection of the real India and its immense diversity. We may be a noisy country but if you listen closely, each one of us is speaking in a noise of our own Language is one of the many identities that the average person has to reconcile with, as part of the larger national identity. The linguistic identity factors heavily in the administrative division of the nation into smaller states.  For a country that takes special, even jingoistic, pride in its culture, language is a very big deal, the womb in which culture is formed and born. Adding to this complexity and making the situation highly inflammable is our colonial heritage of the English tongue. English was mostly seen as the language of choice for the rich and the middle class- the business language, the conduit to greater knowledge, better jobs, more money, a better lifestyle and an access to the wide, wide world outside. It was as they say, a ‘game changer’ in so many ways. In his seminal post-colonial tome ‘Ravan and Eddie’, author Kiran Nagarkar derives sharp satire and accurately captures the linguistic boiling pot as he describes the Marathi-speaking higher castes’ acute jealousy of their lower caste Christian convert neighbour’s English-speaking skills. Add the commentary on language to the one about education and the situation gets more volatile than ever. Education is every Indian’s ladder to the Holy Grail, whatever that may be. The sentiment runs that the slog through school and then university pretty much makes the (wo)man. And, for better or worse, the higher rungs of this ladder are cut in English.  And while students who pass out of vernacular mediums are at a clear disadvantage, it also appears that local culture would be at stake. The hypocrisy of the politics of language which has turned increasingly regional, right wing and popular is formed in this divide. As the situation threatens to catch fire, the government has launched a soft even diplomatic solution that attempts to walk the thin line. The semi-english medium schools in Maharashtra reconcile with the past as they gradually make way for the future.  Under this policy, once the students in the vernacular medium pass the fourth grade, subjects like literature, English and mathematics are taught in the English language. What makes the endeavour sustainable is that the students continue to pay low and subsidised vernacular medium fees and their parents do not have to foot additional burdens. The factor of quality may be debated upon but the introduction of the program across Maharashtra has given poor children in rural and backward areas a point of access to their nation’s official and business language, while also maintaining the preserve of culture. Rohini Pawar who visited a semi-english medium school to make the video testifies that the program has made a noticeable change within her community. She says,” Earlier whenever there was a public program in our locality, the poor children who studied in vernacular used to feel left out when the English medium students recited a poem or gave a talk but now they feel more confident and have more faith in the education they are receiving.” She also made an interesting observation. “It was the parents of rich children who go English medium who seemed to have a problem with the poor children speaking English. So I asked a child from a semi-english school and got him to talk to their children.  The conversation went perfectly fine.” The semi-english medium represents a rare and lucid step towards tackling major issues of language and education. Rather than reject the changes and shifts of a new India and angrily cower in the dark, its vision opens into a new future as it chooses to integrate rather than divide. When asked what he wants to do in the future, the child replies, “I want to be a pilot,” It is our collective responsibility to ensure he flies.

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