[Lgpolicy-list] [lg policy] India: Fixing the three-language formula

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Nov 22 16:11:03 UTC 2014

 Fixing the three-language Formula

  Smriti Irani
  Related News

   - Fixing the three-language formula
   - Smriti Irani's diktat pushing Sanskrit in schools is plain wrong
   - *Sunil Sethi:* Why a little learning is dangerous
   - Has RSS given the government its seal of approval?
   - A professor who sees common thread in Sanskrit, music and mathematics

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One thing is clear in the German
<http://www.business-standard.com/search?type=news&q=German>vs Sanskrit
<http://www.business-standard.com/search?type=news&q=Sanskrit>debate of the
past two weeks, triggered by Union Human Resource Development (HRD)
Minister Smriti Irani's decision to remove German as a third language
choice for middle school students in the Kendriya Vidyalayas
A language programme cannot be abandoned mid-term without causing great
stress all around.

Nearly 80,000 students studying German in Class VI-VIII have been left in
disarray by this decision.

A second issue highlighted by this controversy is the impropriety involved
in calling off a cultural project, funded by a friendly foreign government
blessed at the highest levels on both sides.

The HRD ministry has tried to obfuscate the issue by tightly framing it as
a matter concerning a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that the Goethe
Institut-Max Mueller Bhawan(GI-MMB) and the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan
(KVS) signed in 2011 to launch the German teaching programme in the KVs.
Irani has said the MoU, up for renewal in September, but not renewed, was
not referred to the HRD ministry before being signed. She has deemed it
illegal, for violating the "three language formula", under which the third
language must be a modern Indian language or Sanskrit, and announced
recently that she had ordered an investigation.

However, it is known that such MoUs, involving government-affiliated
institutions, are not signed in isolation from relevant government
ministries. In the case of this, the then minister of state of HRD, E
Ahamed, witnessed its signing, as did a minister from the German foreign
office, which funds the programme. Even clearer evidence that the German
language programme was no backdoor operation comes from the fact that when
former prime minister Manmohan Singh went visiting Germany in April last
year, top-performing KV students were flown to Berlin to mingle with the
two leaders.

Moreover, the then HRD minister, M M Pallam Raju, and a German minister
even signed an MoU at the time for cooperation on setting up specialised
B.Ed courses to meet the need for German language teachers at the secondary
level and upwards. So, the question really is not who allowed the "illegal"
MoU but why the government failed to respect bilateral arrangements arrived
at by its predecessor. Reading between the lines of German Ambassador
Michael Steiner's comments to Business Standard on Friday, German Foreign
Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was likely expecting to witness the
extending of the MoU in Delhi in September but went back disappointed.

A third issue highlighted by this controversy continues to hit the
headlines. This is the emotive linguistic-cultural one of what languages
young Indian children should be prioritising. The latest development is
that Sanskrit Bharati, an organisation linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh, and apparently encouraged by the KV case, wants the Centre to have
foreign languages dropped from schools run by the Central Board of
Secondary Education (CBSE), and make Sanskrit compulsory. It is likely to
lead to fresh rows between self-appointed guardians of "endangered" Indian
culture and the champions of early and unlimited exposure to foreign
languages for schoolchildren in the interests of openness, jobs and

Between these two positions stands the National Curriculum Framework
2005, which upholds the three-language formula, but also adds "it is a
strategy that should really serve as a launching pad for learning more
languages" and that foreign languages may be introduced at a later stage.

If the current German-Sanskrit controversy has served any useful purpose,
it is to draw attention to the contradictions in the way language policy is
actually implemented. Against the HRD ministry's projection of the "three
language formula" as an immutable law that had been "violated" in the KV
case, it has become clear that such "violations" are plentiful, and
official indignation is selective.

Take the case of Delhi's Tagore International School, whose
Mandarin-learning middle school students were visited by Chinese first lady
Peng Liyuan in September, and the pictures were splashed in newspapers.
Principal Madhulika Sen explains, with some pride, in accordance with the
three-language formula middle school children in her school have a choice
between Sanskrit, Mandarin and French as a third language. Sanskriti, an
elite school generously funded by the government and well-populated with
children of the political and bureaucratic elite, goes a step further.
Children in this school can choose between Sanskrit, French, Spanish and
German as their third language.

The elephant in the room is class. Children in government schools, for
example those run by the Delhi Administration, or the Navodaya Vidyalayas
affiliated to the CBSE, have no such luxuries, and are therefore model
adherents to the three-language formula: in north India, that would mean
Hindi, English and Sanskrit. It is no wonder, then, that children in the
modest fee-paying KVs, flocked in large numbers to the German programme,
with its tantalising offer of foreign-language proficiency which is
normally denied to children at non-elite schools.

Should private schools lose their privileges now? Should Sanskrit be forced
down the throats of the unwilling? Educationists and linguists are far from
likely to advocate that. However, some do question whether it is wise for
schoolchildren to be able to drop Indian languages altogether by the end of
Class 8, as prevails in many private schools, and the concern is
pedagogical and not ideological.

Ramakant Agnihotri, a widely-published linguistics expert, says, "If a
child is born with two languages, she should attain high levels of
proficiency in those languages, because then her conceptual clarity becomes
very high, and fosters her ability to earn other languages."

The far greater worry for him, and indeed for most educationists, is the
appalling state of language teaching in the country. In such situation,
they point out, even learning a language for a longer time, whether Hindi,
English or Sanskrit, is no guarantee of proficiency. Will that debate ever


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