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As a Kannadiga, it pains me to see that my comments suggesting that students should learn both Kannada and English in schools being deliberately misinterpreted to suggest I support English as a medium of education over Kannada.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Kannada is my language too and I passionately believe students should be proficient in their mother tongue.
I also believe that it is time for Karnataka’s youth to stand up and be counted when it comes to assuming leadership roles nationally as well as globally. And I share this aspiration with thousands of parents in Karnataka who want their children to realise their full potential through education.
Parents, even in rural Karnataka, are aware of the huge importance of English in the globalized world that we live in today. As the importance of English will continue to increase in future, we need to equip our students to navigate with ease between vernacular mediums and English. If we fail to respond effectively to the aspirations of parents and students by giving them the opportunity to learn English we will be failing them.
Chief Minister Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy understands the aspirations of Karnataka’s youth. His proposal to introduce English-medium classes in Kannada language schools is aimed at giving our youth the opportunity to become global citizens and change their lives and that of their countrymen for the better.
Stop Kannada Medium Schools from Closing Down
Students instructed in only the vernacular medium are at a disadvantage when it comes to both higher education and job prospects. Competitive entrance exams to institutes of higher learning in engineering, science and medicine require students to be proficient in English. The current semester system at the university level needs students to write their examinations in English within a couple of months of obtaining admission in college. Thus, students who speak their mother tongue as well as English stand a better chance than those who know only a single vernacular language.
Today, parents don’t want to send their kids to vernacular schools and that is leading to declining attendance and closure of such schools. The high school section of the oldest Kannada medium school in Bengaluru, Model School Education Society in Chamarajpet, which started in 1870, was forced to shut down in January 2018 because of insufficient student and teacher strength. Eighteen aided Kannada schools across Karnataka were closed down earlier and 10 more were issued notices in October 2017 to close down due to lack of students and teachers. Model School Education Society was among the 10, according to a report by the New Indian Express.
The only way we can prevent these schools from closing down is by ensuring that they impart education in both Kannada and English.
Global Movement towards English
Look at what is happening globally. Millions of children in China, South Korea, Japan are rushing to study English to gain the skills they need in a knowledge economy.
It is no different in the European Union, which has 24 official languages and more than 60 indigenous regional or minority languages. Despite this linguistic diversity, European students study one foreign language far more than any other: English. About 77% of primary school students in the EU learn English as a foreign language, according to data from Eurostat.
This is so because English as a language has today become essential to business, social and diplomatic interactions. From a global perspective, English is the fastest-spreading language in human history, and is spoken at a useful level by ‘one in four’ people around the world. A recent study found that 67% of those working in jobs that require international communication said most of their exchanges were conducted in English. According to another report, it’s also the language of the Internet, with an estimated 52% of the world’s most visited websites displayed in English.
It is not surprising then that the leaders of global institutions like United Nations (UN), World health Organization (WHO), World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) speak fluent English despite being of non-English descent. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde is a French lawyer and politician. The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is an Ethiopian politician, academic, and public health authority. Work Bank President Jim Yong Kim is a South Korean-American physician and anthropologist. UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, is the former Prime Minister of Portugal. Despite their different nationalities and mother tongues, the one thing that is common is their knowledge of English!
Indians Have a Natural Advantage
Given our colonial past, we Indians have a natural advantage over people from other nationalities as English has been an integral part of Indian curriculum for decades. Even the Indian Constitution is written in English.
We need to leverage this advantage to impart English skills to our students to enable them to compete in global arena. At the same time, we need to strengthen the overall education system by training our teachers better and developing a holistic curriculum, which includes English.
By denying English education to an aspiring child in rural or urban Karnataka let’s not stop them from fulfilling their dreams of making it to the top spot on the global stage.