2 crore Indian children study in English-medium schools

NEW DELHI: The last eight years have seen a staggering rise in the number of children studying in English-medium schools across the country. Data on school enrolment for 2010-11 shows that, for the first time, the number of children enrolled in English-medium schools from Classes I to VIII has crossed the two crore mark - a 274% rise since 2003-04.

For the fourth year in a row, English is the second-largest medium of instruction in India, ahead of both Bengali and Marathi, according to a yet-to-be released report on countrywide school enrolment by the National University of Education, Planning and Administration (NUEPA) under its District Information System for Education.

"The collection of information under DISE has improved over the years, and now gives a true picture of enrolments by medium of instruction across the country," says Professor Arun C Mehta of NEUPA.

While Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and English have all seen a rise in enrolment in 2010-11 when compared with the previous year, the rate of increase is highest for English.

While there is an obvious demand for the English language in India, academicians and policy-makers believe state governments are handling this demand in an extremely unimaginative manner.

"There is a wealth of research which shows that the best medium of instruction for a child to have a conceptual understanding of a subject is his mother-tongue. Just because people want their children to study English does not mean that they need to enroll them at an English-medium school. If Indian-language schools did a good job teaching English, parents would not need to send their children to English-medium schools," said R Govinda, vice-chancellor of NUEPA. He himself studied in a Kannada-medium school where he picked up good English, he pointed out.

"There has been extensive research to show that the number of years for which children study a language does not necessarily translate into them being able to speak or read the language. It is seen that if you show mastery over your first language and can read and write it fluently, you can learn a second language, such as English, a lot faster," says Professor Anita Rampal, dean of the faculty of education at Delhi University. She points to countless instances where textbooks are in English but children can't make sense of them.

"Several states have seen a spike in the number of private schools, many of which call themselves English medium, though they don't teach much English," says Govinda. But Vinod Raina, an architect of India's Right to Education Bill, feels the recent NUEPA data should not be interpreted as a rise in enrolment in private English-medium schools alone, as several states, such as Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab, are themselves adopting English medium for government schools.

Raina, who has studied the education system in J&K and Punjab, says that teachers in these states are bitter about being forced to teach in English without being equipped to do so, with disastrous consequences. "This is not simply a question of one teacher having to teach the English language, but about all teachers suddenly having to transact in English," he says. "That government schools are turning Englishmedium does not, in any way, mean that either teachers or students at these schools can speak a word of English," says Raina.

Rampal points to an urgent need for a well-deliberated national language policy, in the absence of which individual states have taken arbitrary decisions regarding English.

Many, like Shyam Menon, director of Ambedkar University, believe that the rise in the number of children at Englishmedium schools reflects the aspirations of India's middle class, which believes that an English education translates into greater upward mobility, irrespective of the quality of education delivered at many schools.