It is time the governments have a long term view of the curriculum so future generations are grateful to our generation
Seventy years of Multiparty Democracy transformed India into a country where every issue is – politicized. During the newsprint days due to the slow reach of news, the available time for debate and analyses was more. Now, as the news being broadcasted live, dissemination of news, decision making is almost done like cooking instant noodles. With raged debates over television and instant tweets, people are forced to take sides and decide everything in Black & White, ignoring the many shades of Grey.
So, it is necessary to pause, reflect and analyze the decision by the Andhra Pradesh Government to change the medium of instruction in primary schools from Telugu, the mother tongue of Telugu people to English, the colonial leftover, but believed to be very much necessary for having an advanced career.
The decision was taken in keeping the future of the next generation in mind. However, as it is often said that road to hell was paved with the best of intentions, this decision is wrong
As with anything that any government authority decides, there is opposition for this proposal too – in this case, from those who wanted to save Telugu. True – all Indian languages need to be saved. To say frankly, except for Hindi, there is absolutely no endeavour by any government to promote any regional language. But, the question here is whether changing medium of instruction to English will damage the regional language – or not. The answer is NO. The survival, growth or fall of the language does not depend on the medium of instruction.
The growth of a language mostly depends on how the language is used in contemporary literature, arts reflecting the culture of present society. The primary and suitable example is the Telugu language itself. Telugu lorded over the South for nearly two centuries owing to the literature of Carnatic Music. When Gurajada Appa Rao pioneered and propagated vyavaharika Telugu instead of the granthic one in literature, the growth was even more. Even as the tradition of Natakas (Dramas) was replaced by the emerging Cine field, celluloid only took it further as the films included not only poetry and music of substance but even including Hari Kathas and Burra Kathas. With many weekly magazines that enjoyed great readership and full of stories and serials that were made into films, Telugu grew continuously.
However, after globalization, in the new century, the language started changing – especially in the urban area as many English and Hindi words found their way into Telugu conversation. Gone are the days when the lyrics were poems and traditional art forms were part of celluloid. Even a Janapada film like Bahubali doesn’t have a single “padyam” which was the hallmark of Telugu literature. And, that is a cause to worry.
Now, monthlies for Children (like Chandamama) are not in vogue as they were in earlier days. Most of the older magazines vanished. And, for anyone who wanted to save the language and let the future generations get a hold on it, they should worry more about this than the government’s decision. The language used in stories of yesteryears was full of idioms, phrases so the child is exposed to the nuances of the language.
Does it mean Telugu, as a medium of instruction be replaced by English? The answer is again NO. Time and again it was proved teaching in mother tongue is more effective than teaching in English. This was a discussion that was settled long ago and there is no need to revisit it.
How to look at the decision by the Andhra government?
The decision was taken in keeping the future of the next generation in mind. However, as it is often said that road to hell was paved with the best of intentions, this decision is wrong. One shall remember how fluency in English gave an edge to India over China from the late nineties. The growing footprint of AP in the global IT sector increases competition with fellow states like Tamilnadu and Karnataka and so the need to expose students more to English. I believe the greatest influence on the present decision is mainly targeting the Engineering stream more than other streams, as this sector is having a greater interface with the outside world. So, to improve the quality of Engineers, who are fluent in English is imperative. However, English fluency is secondary to technical knowledge. And, to have better technical knowledge mother tongue as medium of instruction is the best. So, there shall be a balance of two aspects – having better knowledge in Science and Mathematics along with fluency in English.
To achieve this, the government needs to improve the quality of education that is now being imparted in the government-run schools, where mostly the poor get their education. For one, the plans of training existing teaching staff to enable them to teach in English is not going to work. Any two-bit trainer who spent a decade in the corporate training world knows the futility of trying to transform adults into something they don’t want. Most of these teachers studied in Telugu medium but some of them are highly effective while some are less – in imparting the knowledge of science and math. Efforts by the government on retraining these teachers would not result in them in teaching in English, but in all probability, they will teach in a hybrid mix of Telugu and English. Lost in the transition are both technical skills and linguistic skills. The proposed system may increase students who will be poor in Math and Science (compared to the current generation of students) but poor in both Telugu and English. [Compare it to the old system wherein students have a better knowledge of the subject but not so well at English. Still, they got jobs owing to their subject knowledge.]
So, what the government should do? The ideal action plan is three-fold – addressing three issues. The first one is improving scientific and problem-solving skills. For this, the government should continuously explore various techniques used in the world and adopt them, but keep Telugu as the medium of instruction. In a nutshell, improve the existing teaching method – content, infrastructure, etc, but not the medium of the language.
The second issue is to increase fluency in English. For this, introduce English as a mandatory language and recruit good teachers and retrain the existing ones. This is less cumbersome than training the entire teaching workforce to migrate to English as a teaching medium. If necessary, the government may do away with the third language that always was redundant and a political decision in the first place. I too studied Hindi as the third language and believe me, this only enables one to read and write the language without understanding a bit. About the accent, the less said is the better. Finally, I relied on Hindi songs to learn and improve my Hindi. If the government stops promoting, more people will learn Hindi – and correctly. Introducing spoken English at the primary school level will help in getting the accent correct. Teaching English should have the primary objective of improving communication skills. So, there shall be more stress on the practice of both reading and creative writing. Courses may be designed in such a way children will lose their inhibitions and start enjoying the new language.
The level of aptitude that needs to get Chandas correctly would help the student be better in both Science and Math
The third issue is to let Telugu to remain relevant and flourish. More than the government, this is the responsibility of society. Those who come forward to criticize the government should take a lead and establish a few children’s magazines that are as good as the old Chandamama and Balamitra and Bommarillu. For children going to primary school, introducing comics will be a better option. Stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and biographies of Krishnadeva Raya, and other historical figures would be a welcome initiative. It is time to revive the school libraries and let children read past and present Telugu literature. The existing history syllabus doesn’t cover everything native so extensively. Moving to the English medium would farther move children away from Indian history. Let the children read “Kanyasulkam” and “Barrister Parvateesam” instead of rotting who the author was for the sake of a TV quiz.
The other is the cine field that has much influence on the general public nowadays. Irrespective of what one thinks, films have emerged as the most important art form that reflects today’s society. They are equivalent of yesteryears’ dramas, dances and much more – all combined into one. Many learned Telugu scholars who write songs for films may think once before they pen their next song that contains Hindi or English words and devoid of any lyrical/poetic value. It is not that they can’t pen beautiful lyrics. Most of the time, they are forced to pass some nonsense in the name of poetry and blame on the changed taste of people. However, time and again it was proved that people would enjoy better lyrics and people often complain that nonsense is being passed on to them in the name of lyrics and music. But, the Cine industry being a huge rich cat, who will tie the bell? Will there be a social movement on improving the quality of films? I doubt, but it is necessary.
On its part, the government can organize competitions in Telugu literature. Let young kids in high school write Padyams in Utpalamala or Champakamala. How many students of the present generation know the difference between Sisa padyam and Aata Veladi? How many realize that it takes great effort to synthesize a padyam according to Chandas and in the process, the brain gets trained to handle science and math easily – because there is an intrinsic calculation that is involved? Selecting suitable words with correct letters and notations and compose a meaningful verse is as demanding as to synthesize a new system. The level of aptitude that needs to get Chandas correctly would help the student be better in both Science and Math. Perhaps, this is the strongest argument in favour of Telugu to be the medium of instruction.
It is not only sufficient to stress on the granthic Telugu but even on the folk language needs support. How many know that Katamaraju Katha, the biggest ballad in Telugu, is over two thousand pages? Is the present syllabus even indicates this? Already our history books start with Mughals and end with Gandhis.
It is time the governments have a long term view of the curriculum so future generations are grateful to our generation. Notwithstanding the politics being played around his latest decision, if Jagan revisits his decision and amends it for the sake of people who voted him to power, it would be better for the state and its people.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.