Mandatory Kannada in schools welcome

The Karnataka government has made the teaching of Kannada as a first or second language compulsory in all schools in the state. This rule will apply to not just state board and government schools but also ICSE, CBSE and minority schools as well. The rule will come into effect from the 2018-19 academic year. The teaching of Kannada in schools in the state is a welcome decision. Increasingly, Kannada has become a language that is spoken and written only in rural Karnataka. Those living in the cities, especially in the capital, Bengaluru, are unable to do so. This is not only because many non-Kannada speakers live here but also many Kannadigas lack fluency in the language. School students in the state have avoided learning Kannada. In the process, Kannada as a medium of communication has declined and knowledge of its rich literature is limited. It is to provide the state language with a boost that the Karnataka government has made its teaching as a first or second language compulsory.

Critics of the move say that forcing students to learn the language is unlikely to be productive. Indeed, compulsion is never the best way to induce learning. However, Karnataka did try for a long time to gently nudge schools towards Kannada. It implemented the three-language formula diligently, unlike several other states. However, this laissez faire approach saw students opting for Hindi and other languages, even foreign ones. Earlier, the government tried to enforce Kannada as a medium of instruction in all primary schools. It failed as the decision was shot down by the judiciary. By allowing students the choice of learning Kannada as a first or second language, the government has now taken a more reasonable and acceptable approach.

The government is addressing the concerns of students coming from other states and joining the system midway. Mindful of their difficulties, the government has said they will be taught introductory level Kannada, while those who studied in the state will be taught at an advanced level. The government should also be prepared and able to address issues that arise as the future of millions of students is at stake. Importantly, the government needs to introspect over the failure to attract students to learning Kannada in the past. Were Kannada teachers lacking in teaching skills? Was the syllabus uninspiring? Is it more difficult to score high marks in Kannada? Do students see more opportunities open up with learning other languages? These are real concerns and the government must address them. Importantly, while boosting Kannada, the government must avoid driving out other languages from the state.

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