Solving the language conundrum

Solving the language conundrum

language muddle

Solving the language conundrum

English is largely preferred as the medium of instruction in schools across the state. So, where does that leave the government schools, where the medium of instruction is Kannada, asks Shakira Khan


As many as 708 schools in Karnataka have applied for an ‘English Medium’ Tag. The request has come in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict that has given the parents the right to choose the Medium of Instruction (MI) for their wards. The Government of Karnataka had not formulated a Language Policy (LP) for education till 1994.

 The Official Language Policy was applied to the domain of education. The huge demand for education could not be met by Government alone. The private managements of education started not only schools but also professional colleges. The Government of Karnataka recognised these schools and brought some of them under the Grant-in–aid Code. Most of these private schools, on paper, had Kannada as the MI, but imparted education through English. 

In 1994, the Government passed an order which made it mandatory for all the recognised schools to use mother tongue – Kannada for Class I-IV. As a punitive measure, the Government threatened to withdraw recognition to schools that did not abide by the order. The private managements went to court and the Supreme Court passed a verdict that the government could not impose a MI and the choice was left to the parents.

Growing demand

Globalisation has created multiple domains where English is being used in a major fashion. In the absence of a system where English can be learnt well enough outside the school, education through English is considered to be an easy way out. Consider this: many states, including Karnataka, introduced English as a language from Class I. Parents are not sure if this is enough. The growing demand for education through English is a reality today as the governments are insisting on candidates being proficient in English for a job offer. 

The private sector is market-driven. Language is only a sub-text in the technology driven, profit-oriented business. Spoken skills are in great demand.A youngster who has failed his seventh standard, gets a job in a mall if he can speak English. Parents are under the impression that their wards can acquire speech skill if they their MI is English. It is the prospect of better life chances that knowledge of English promises which is triggering the proliferation of English-medium schools. 
This attitude cannot be equated as disloyalty to Kannada. It is time to dissociate the idea of language loyalty and the MI. The state should formulate a new LP for education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. It should seek assistance from experts in the area of status and corpus planning. 

Children have an innate quality to learn multiple languages. Our language policy for education needs to take this multilingual attitude of the Kannada speech community into consideration. One hopes the Government of Karnataka comes up with a policy text that reflects the ethos of the kannadigas. Kannada as Kuvempu perceived it, is not only a language but also a mindset. 

Our LP, cannot be formulated on the lines of the LP in the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala – these are monolingual states. Karnataka has speakers of 166 languages. It was the multilingual ethos of the Kannada speech community that brought Tulu, Konkani, Kodava and many more languages-speaking people together under the umbrella of Mysore state. The new LP for education has to be sensitive to the linguistic aspirations of all these speech communities who have accepted Kannada as their official language in the domains of administration, judiciary and communication. The new LP for education should deviate from the western mode of looking at linguistic diversity as a problem. 

Need for sensitive policies
The new LP of the government has to address multiple issues. Our pedagogic approach to language teaching and learning needs a change. Our impending language policy should cover status planning, corpus planning and thrust on the listening and speaking and reading skills. Having done this, we cannot continue with our old model of examination – testing the student’s memory through writing skill. It’s time we had a separate language policy for education that can take people’s aspirations and response as their legitimate linguistic right and reflect the multilingual ethos of the state of Karnataka.

At the same time, care can be taken to make learning of Kannada more interesting and in sync with the modern times so that more and more students at secondary and tertiary levels choose Kannada as a second language. The government and the public will have to create new domains for the use of Kannada. A policy that addresses people’s aspirations and their dream of a better tomorrow for their wards is not too much to ask for.

It isn’t just about the medium of instruction anymore. With population growth, it would be difficult for the Department of Public Instruction to attract students to the government schools unless a qualitative change is ushered in. With qualified and trained teaches who undergo compulsory in-service training programmes, midday meals, uniforms, the Government schools should have been the first choice of every parent for their wards. Not all the private schools can boast of good infrastructure, trained teachers and central syllabus. Yet, the parents choose these expensive schools. 

(The author is a teaching fellow in the Department of Political Science, Kuvempu University, Shivamogga.)

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