EDITORIAL | English-medium for poor welcome

The Karnataka government’s plan to introduce English medium sections in 1,000 government schools from 2019-20 has kicked up a storm. The decision came under fire from eminent Kannada litterateurs at the recent Kannada Sahitya Sammelana (KSS) in Dharwad. In his keynote address, Jnanpith Award recipient Chandrashekhar Kambar called for Kannada to be the only medium of education up to Class 7. This is the only way to save the Kannada language from dying out, he said. The literary gathering even passed a resolution opposing the government’s plan and urging it to reconsider its decision. Although it was in the July 2018 budget that Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy first made known his plan to introduce English-medium sections, the English versus Kannada debate is an old one. Critics of English as medium of instruction have long argued that such a move would culminate in the demise of Kannada language and culture. Importantly, education is best imparted to children in their mother tongue. There is validity in arguments in favour of Kannada medium of instruction. However, in a world where English is the language of opportunity, are we right in excluding children from the poorer classes availing this opportunity? Children who go to government schools are usually from deprived socio-economic groups. They are already at a disadvantage when they begin schooling. Denying them access to English-medium education would amount to not only depriving them of a level playing field when they enter the job market but also to restricting their opportunities to Karnataka.

The Kannada language, its rich literature and cultural heritage must be preserved. The Karnataka government must set aside resources and come up with programmes for its preservation. But putting the onus of preserving the language on the shoulders of poor children is unfair. This is the responsibility of Kannada linguistic and cultural bodies. Their primary mandate is to preserve and popularise the language, literature and theatre. Children should be learning, exploring and playing, not taking on the responsibility of propagating and preserving the state language.

It would be a pity if the Kumaraswamy government buckles under pressure from Kannada activists. If it persists with implementing the decision, the government has its work cut out. It must begin immediately to build teachers’ competencies in English and make available curriculum books in English. The transition will not be easy, but it will be productive in the years to come. It is not impossible to implement the plan efficiently.

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EDITORIAL | English-medium for poor welcome

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