A case for bilingual schooling in India

There has been blasphemy – like, public outcry, largely urban-English-daily-reading public, over the Samajwadi Party election manifesto in general and the abolition of “expensive education in English” in particular.

Anything coming from a political party, especially an election manifesto, has to be seen in terms of political mileage. An election manifesto is a manifestation of the political party’s perception of the needs of its vote bank and not just about their political orientation and ideological leanings with attendant linguistic chauvinism. Though, most definitely not a supporter of the Samajwadi Party, the issue about English education needs to relooked at, with a more objective and unbiased lens. 

Today, the Indian education system, generally speaking, is tuned to the needs of the market. There has been “commodification of education… excessive emphasis on skill, employment and corporate-oriented education” at the cost of education as it evolved from the word. With globalisation becoming a reality and not just a term, the market became more of an uncertain, unpredictable and unforeseeable place. In education, there was a balance between the educare and the educere approach earlier, but in the more recent times market forces have made it lean heavily towards educare. 

This is not just an etymological issue but has larger implications like the hierarchy of disciplines and medium of instruction. In a land of linguistic diversity and inequities, like India, language of instruction can be a complex and emotive issue. While teaching in the child’s language at the primary level is pedagogically sound, it seems to be fighting a losing battle against English. That is a sad and unfortunate development in a country of linguistic wealth and tradition like India.

bilingual-model

In a nation of a billion, why have we not been able to develop a bilingual system of education? The current model of bilingual schools is dismal. Go through the catalogue of resources that a school has and it tells you the importance that the school places on languages other than that of instruction. It is restricted to half-hearted efforts being made to do the bare minimum in the second language and the lack of prestige attached to the non-English medium schools. By bilingual schools I do not mean schools that teach more than one language to students rather schools that teach in more than one language. These are schools that attach equal importance to curriculum and its delivery in any two languages within one school. For instance, students could opt for Hindi or English as the medium of instruction. This bilingualism can be drawn from one ‘universal’ language like English and other from any of the 13 dialects of the Hindi or any of the other regional languages recognised by the Indian constitution. The choice of these languages and a structuring of such schools is a matter of academic debate taking into account socio-political considerations.  

There are tremendous benefits of such schools in India. Firstly, it will make the best use of the vast pool of resources, human and material, in the Indian languages, that are largely unused or underused in a unilingual school. Secondly, it will promote a sense of identity and ownership fostering academic respect, not mere tolerance for education in Indian languages. Thirdly, it will further enrich the Indian languages and cater to the aesthetical as well as vocational aspect of education. Fourthly, it brings parents within the loop of their children’s education, making them proactive partners of the school in their child’s education.