Language of the future, who cares?

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Sep 26 15:41:27 UTC 2006

*Language of the future, who cares?*
Karnataka does a Tughlaq. Lakhs of students are displaced as government
orders closure of 1,400 English medium schools. TYAGARAJ SHARMA reports

When little Abhigyan asked his mother why he was suddenly being prevented
from going to school where he was learning English for the last five years,
she had difficulty in answering him.
And so did lakhs of parents who overnight found that they could not send
their wards to the schools they had been attending for so many years.
Karnataka's primary and secondary education minister, Mr Basvaraj Horatti,
however, was more than willing to help. After all, it was under his
direction that at least 1,400 unaided primary schools using English as the
medium of education in the state, were ordered to close down recently.

Mr Horatti was not concerned that his decision would seriously affect about
300,000 students of these schools and that, too, in the middle of their
academic year. What mattered more was his pride in Kannada, the local
language. According to him, these schools, opened after 1994, were issued
licences on the condition that they would use Kannada as the medium of
instruction. Recent inspection, he argues, showed that they had violated the
rules. Which is why they had to be punished, taught a lesson for ignoring
Kannada. Promptly, he ordered that the schools be closed. That was his gift
to the hapless students who were getting ready to enjoy the fortnight-long
Dusshera vacation. More important, the crackdown came on the eve of the
celebrations to mark 50 years of Karnataka's formation as a state.

The move has made the parents of these children furious. After all, where do
they go to admit them now. Though the minister has promised to accommodate
the displaced children in neighbourhood government schools, the number of
affected children is so large that it is virtually impossible to satisfy
all. No doubt, the minister is quick to argue that the crackdown on the
guilty schools was not sudden. They had been given enough warnings.Yet, he
says, they continued, paying scant attention to the government directive.
Some were even collecting huge donations for teaching in English.
He, however, has no answer to the question: why should the students and
their parents be made to suffer? He could not care less as he maintained
that they should have verified everything before admitting their wards in
these schools.

At the same time, he is quick to admit that neither the government nor he
had anything against English.Yet it could not be promoted at the expense of
Kannada! The minister's Tughlaq-like decision has created panic all over the
state, though it is the IT capital which is the worst hit as the number of
schools that are being shut here exceeds 1,000. The government's move comes
a few days after it appointed Infosys' mentor, Mr Narayana Murthy, as
chairman of the committee to head the state's IT vision group. He is a
prominent advocate of English as the medium of instruction in local schools,
a must to enable the students to get the required jobs, as he said. As
expected, the education minister's move has caused an uproar, with the
management of these schools even seeking legal recourse. Virtually all the
schools agree that the pressure from parents to teach their wards in English
was tremendous. More important, a majority of the students from these
schools belong to the economically and socially backward sections.

As Mr GS Sharma, president, Karnataka Unaided School Management Association,
for one, said, the government could not discriminate between schools which
started before and after 1994. For, according to him, institutes that were
set up before that year were allowed to teach in the language of their
choice. Why this discrimination against the schools which were set up later,
he wonders.
He is equally confident that the government has no powers to shut down the
schools. Citing the recent TMA Pais vs State of Karnataka case, he said the
Supreme Court had upheld the fundamental right of citizens to run
educational institutions, clearly highlighting the autonomy of private
schools. Which is why all the affected managements would now meet soon to
chalk out a strategy to contest the government's move; even seek a stay.
Critics are foxed by the coalition government's decision to ensure the
implementation of a 12-year-old order now, especially as it has just
completed 200 days in office. What were the previous governments and their
education ministers doing?

That is the common refrain. The question is easily answered as two former
education ministers, Mr BK Chandrasekhar and Mr Ramalinga Reddy, said, they
were aware of the language policy of 1994. They allowed the schools to
continue with English as the medium of education in the interest of the
children. It was that simple! English, they contended, was the language of
the future and could be promoted without ignoring Kannada. The argument,
however, does not cut much ice with Mr Horatti as he is determined to push
through his agenda. These schools, he said, could either close down or
conduct classes in Kannada by seeking fresh approvals. The minister
obviously believes that he is on a firm wicket. This, despite the fact that
chief minister Mr HD Kumaraswamy has promised to find a via media to solve
the vexed issue. The minister, however, will have none of this as his
response indicated, thus paving the way for more confusion and a legal
battle with the managements of the affected schools.

His critics, on the other hand, believe the government has engineered the
controversy to arm-twist the managements of the affected schools. If they
are to be believed, another Bellary-type scandal is in the offing. This
leaves the beleaguered Abhigyan and thousands like him none the wiser about
their future.
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