Politics of English language & Common School System

One was outraged to note that the leader of the opposition chose to address the Lok Sabha and the nation on a crucial issue of national importance such as Indo-US Nuclear deal not in Hindi but in English. Where was the need for the use of English language in the Lok Sabha by the most ardent nationalist leader? It is understandable why a senior politician from UP gets perturbed by the growing trend of unnecessary, inappropriate and uncalled use of English language in our country.

Although one disagrees with Samajwadi Party on almost all issues ranging from its support for Indo-US Nuclear deal to its impudent promotion of industrialists like Anil Ambani and its dynastic politics but on the issue of language underlined in its manifesto, one is compelled to agree with it because there is an echo of what was recommended by a Government of India’s high-powered committee under Dr D.S. Kothari, the then chairman of University Grants Commission to frame a national policy which would give shape and direction to newly independent India’s school education system.

The Kothari Commission Report on Education (1964-66) is still regarded as the most in-depth study of primary and secondary education in Indian history. The Kothari Commission advocated a common school system. According to the commission the characteristics of a common school system include--publicly funded schools open to all children irrespective of caste, creed, community, religion, economic condition or social status, no tuition fee is charged and providing free instruction for all in the mother tongue at the primary level, particularly for linguistic minorities; active encouragement of teaching in regional languages at the secondary level and discontinuance of state aid to schools imparting education other than in the medium of mother tongue/ regional language

The National Education Policies of 1986 and 1992 endorsed the Kothari Commission’s recommendation of a common school system across the country. However the recommendation has never translated into action. In 1990, the apex Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE), which appraises the extent to which the National Education Policy is implemented by the Central and state governments and other agencies appointed a committee to review NEP 1986. The CABE constituted Acharya Ramamurti Committee which noted that the common school system proposal was not making any headway because of the constitutional protection given to minorities to establish and administer their own educational institutions is incompatible with a common school system, public schools and privately managed English medium schools, schools charging capitation fees and those offering expensive coaching have proliferated.

What is noteworthy is that quite like other political parties Samajwadi Party neither did anything to promote common school system when it was in power nor does it promise to do so now. Therefore, mere insistent and valid criticism on misplaced emphasis on English language is not sufficient. Almost all the advocates of Hindi including the stalwarts in Hindi journalism and politicians of Hindi heartland have either sent their children to English schools or wish to do so.

In such a backdrop, Dalit thinkers are absolutely right in demanding English education because at least since 1757 English language seems to have determined as to who is an oppressor and who is the oppressed. In fact it is sad but it appears to be true that they who know English are Upper Castes and they who do not are Dalits. English as a medium of education must be eliminated in favour of mother tongue but opposing it without advocating common school system is manifestly insincere and dishonest because no developed or developing country has ever achieved Universal Elementary Education or, for that matter, Universal Secondary Education, without a strong state-funded and state-regulated Common School System. It is indeed an irony that such an equitable public school system has been prevalent in some form or the other in several European countries, USA and Canada but not in India where it is needed the most.

However, it must be mentioned that in 2006, Bihar Chief Minister called for the Common School System to be implemented by the central government in order to ensure quality and non-discriminatory education to all. Bihar, said he, is the first state to have constituted a commission on common school system. Since then reiterating the recommendations of Kothari Commission, the Common School System Commission has submitted its 313-page report in June 2007 and almost two years have passed but one is not aware of steps taken by Bihar Government to act on its recommendation calling “for a legislation underpinning the Common School System.” If it happens it would be a trendsetter beyond empty posturing on English language as a medium of education.


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