Amongst a flurry of falling
figures indicating India's worryingly slowed economic growth, one number's
rising at a phenomenal rate. The number of children enrolled in English-medium
schools has now crossed two crore. That's 274% growth since 2003-04. This
development is fuelled by a tremendous boom in aspirations - cutting across
Middle-class parents in India send their children to English-medium schools as a
matter of habit and hopefulness, providing their young with the tools necessary
for a professional career. Alongside, India's poor also send their children
today to English-medium schools, hoping such an education will save them from
hardships they've experienced, instead opening a diversity of employment options
for their young. Several factors have fuelled this revolution of hope.
Liberalisation opened the worldview of the Indian middle-class while greater
migration, within and outside India, increased awareness of non-traditional ways
of living and working. Alongside, a vibrant mass media literally brought home
English-language programming, familiarising many with words - 'elections' to
'enter-tainment' - once limited to privileged circles.
The result? A transformation of aspirations is occurring, making ordinary people
think of new possibilities, shaking the once-powerful view of Indian society
being resistant to change or mobility. Today, a domestic helper sending her
child to an English-medium school won't face derision. Rather, a middle-class
person will most likely nod in understanding. Socially, this is hugely positive.
For the economy too, this is good news. It will only help India to have greater
numbers of young people educated in English, international employers finding
Indians thus enjoying a powerful advantage over other Asian nations.
But there's a worrying side too. Even as the
English-medium education booms, supply falls way behind. Most government
schools are ill-equipped to handle teaching in English. This, combined with
absenteeism and notable harshness towards pupils, makes poorer parents turn
hopefully towards private schools. However, these come with few guarantees of
quality. Limited chances of accessing the very small numbers of seats at
recognised universities featuring cut-offs that defy belief. Here's the rub then
- the boom in English-medium education is being driven by a revolution of Indian
aspirations. If met, this will yield huge benefits by way of an
citizenry and increased global competitiveness. If unsatisfied, this will cause
greater frustration and choke growth. India's policymakers need to move fast in
boosting educational supply towards balancing growing aspirations. As the old
saying goes, a little education can be a dangerous thing.