Studying English or Studying in English?

Studying English or Studying in English?

Studying English or Studying in English?

Ravinarayan Chakrakodi  distinguishes between English as the study of a language vs English as a medium of instruction and the need for linguistic competency to  teach academic subjects in English. 

English is undoubtedly the language of aspiration, economic mobility and employability. However, the status that English language occupies today is purely accidental. Other languages such as French, Spanish or even Chinese could have enjoyed equal status but for the fact that English was at the right place at the right time. 

English has become the language of higher education in many countries. English is increasingly becoming the medium of instruction at graduate and post-graduate levels all over the world. However, not many are willing to embrace this language as the medium of instruction at the school level. 

Look at these interesting facts on the medium of instruction in different countries:In Brazil, every public school uses Brazilian Portuguese as the medium of instructionIn the People's Republic of China, Mandarin is used as the medium of instruction in most schools.

In Georgia, most schools conduct education in GeorgianIn Israel, Hebrew is the medium in most schoolsIn Japan, Japanese is used in most schools (including Universities and Colleges). In South and North Korea, Korean is used in most schools (including Universities and Colleges).

In Philippines, the learner's first language should be the primary medium of instruction at least until grade three.

In Thailand, Thai is the medium in most schools including universities.In Malaysia, Malay is the medium of instruction in most schools.In Russia, Russian language is dominating in education.

However, in India, English is being offered widely as the medium of instruction in schools. It is perplexing to note that we are debating the issue of medium of instruction at the primary level i.e. from classes 1 to 4 when the countries world over are debating the medium of instruction at the graduate or post-graduate level. Some countries are against teaching academic subjects in English even at the university level. 

English is Greek to a vast majority of children in a non-English speaking country like ours. “It is very distressful for children to learn a language whose structure, format and grammar they do not understand and at the same time grasp scientific, mathematical and linguistic concepts in the 'unlearned' language”. 

English as a medium instruction may help children improve their English language proficiency but this may cause irreparable damages to the learning and understanding of academic subjects. 

As English-medium schools are on the rise in India, it becomes imperative to raise some of the following questions: 

Do teachers have the linguistic competence to teach the academic subjects in English? Do the students have a clear understanding of the content knowledge in subjects such as Mathematics, science, or Geography?

What are the detrimental effects of English medium instruction on students’ interest in learning other languages?

One of the studies conducted in Pakistan reveals that 94% of teachers lack minimum standards necessary to deliver quality English medium education. It is essential that teachers teaching through English should be able to communicate fluently, intelligibly and with reasonable accuracy in English.  

The state government should make it mandatory for such teachers to qualify an English proficiency test at the national/state level. 

The increasing use of English in schools where English is the medium of instruction is directly proportional to the decreasing use and importance of other languages.

 ‘Englishisation’ of education is a threat to the growth and development of local languages. Banning children from using other languages in school premises will have negative consequences. Therefore, earnest efforts must be made to foster indigenous languages in such schools. Schools should strive to achieve a good balance between English and other languages. Providing wider access to literature, oral and literacy activities in other languages, use of modern communication technologies in other languages are some of the options available to us.

On the other hand, there are children studying in government schools and these children have strong motivation for learning English.  

They get hardly any exposure to English, few opportunities to engage in social interactions and literacy experiences in English at home. 

They have hardly any access to resources in English. Equity is explained as ‘equal access to education, equal quality of education and that the education should be compensating’. Education should ‘compensate for unfavourable home conditions’. In these circumstances, the State should bridge the gap between children studying English and those studying in English.