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Muncipal schools in India teach very poor English

January 15, 2007

As a nation we may be proud that our education system lays so much emphasis on the English language, that the language is being taught at the primary level even in vernacular medium schools, but not all of India is benefiting from this. These are the findings of the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) which have been brought out in it’s interim report made public this month.
The NKC, a committee appointed by the Prime Minster way back in 2005 and headed by Sam Pitroda, was constituted to advise the Prime Minister on how India “could promote excellence in the education system to meet the knowledge challenges of the 21st Century.”
Muncipal school kids are at a great disadvantage
The details of the findings are not available over the internet but as this article in The Hindu says,

“The report said though English has been part of country’s education system for more than a century, yet the language was beyond the reach of most of young people, making it highly unequal access.”

There are several reasons for this:
1) Only nine of the 28 states and three union territories have introduced English as a subject from class one (in the vernacular medium schools).
2) While English was being taught…it was often taught as a standalone subject. Therefore students who opt for engineering, commerce and other technical courses find it difficult to follow the lessons at college level.
3) Good quality teachers of English are not always available in municipal schools.

That is why NKC (India Daily article) has recommended that

1) English should be taught from class I in all government schools in India.
2) That it should be taught properly…that the teachers of English have a high proficiency in English.
This is something that many of us take for granted…but unfortunately those in muncipal schools do not. Good teachers of English in government schools are lured away by the higher salaries that private schools pay.
Real life examples
I have been teaching English to four poor children (sixth grade) who study in decent government-run (municipal) Marathi medium schools. They study in three different schools (the ones nearest their house) and all of them are taught English from class one. I don’t know whether this is considered being taught ‘English’ because all they learn in the first year is the English alphabet and numbers. Their English language lessons are gradually scaled up…but even in the sixth grade these children are unable to form a single correct grammatical sentence of more than three words. They do not know the meaning of simple words like ‘it’ and ‘her’ and their spelling is awful. And these are intelligent children. They score extremely well in all other subjects …80-90%! I have seen their exercise books and have seen that their understanding of Math and the Sciences is fairly good.
So this means their poor English drags down their rank?
Not really.
They tell me that their teachers are extremely lenient and do not cut marks for spelling mistakes or wrong grammar. As long as the overall meaning of the sentence comes through, it is marked correct! These kids are very difficult to teach – because their teachers often give them wrong meanings of words and accept wrong grammar as ‘correct’. If an outsider tries to correct them it results in confusion.
But does the government take the NKC seriously?
The NKC may have advised the government to scale up both the quality and quantity of English teaching but I wonder if anyone takes the NKC seriously nowadays. Remember, they tried to stop the government from going in for caste-based reservation of seats in higher educational institutions? The news report on that is here. In fact the NKC had even suggested an alternative. It wanted the government to set up 400,000 good quality government schools in the next 10-15 years. This would not just meet the current shortage of schools in the right areas (poor children prefer neighbourhood schools), the improved English teaching would provide equal opportunities to children at the secondary school level. NKC had also recommended that the ‘creamy layer’ (the rich amongst the backward castes) should not get the benefits of reservation.
The government paid no attention to the commission’s recommendations. As everyone knows, caste-based quotas (27%) in higher educational institutions will be implemented from June next year.

Either the various committees that the government keeps appointing on a regular basis are simply an eyewash or as most people believe – our Prime Minister is not the most powerful guy in this country.

Related Reading: Poor quality teaching in government schools

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