20 May 2008, EDITORIAL, Derek Walcott, West Indian Writer

The English language is nobody's special property

Passage to English

Enrolment shoots up in schools that use it as the teaching medium

Here's something for critics of globalisation to chew on. Enrolment in English-medium schools in India has gone up sharply in just two years, from 4.3 per cent of total enrolment in 2003-04 to 6.3 per cent in 2005-06. The surge in English enrolment propels it to third place after Hindi and Marathi, in terms of total number of Indian children being instructed in that language. This shows that despite what parochially-minded politicians would have us believe about the allegedly elitist trappings of English language teaching, there's actually a grass-roots movement favouring it.

 Increasing enrolment in English language schools in India is in line with international trends, where English is establishing itself as the language of global commerce. The world's top business schools and universities, for example, are increasingly moving towards adopting English as the language of instruction. According to premier linguistic expert David Crystal there is no historical precedent for today's situation, where there's a language that's spoken in every country of the world: English.

India states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra are leading the surge towards English, with the number of students enrolled in English-medium schools actually doubling within two years in AP. There has been no comparable increase in Hindi-speaking states like UP, Bihar and MP. That's not because people living in the southern states are less proud of their culture than those in the Hindi heartland. That's caused, rather, by the wide availability of globalisation-driven jobs, such as in the IT or BPO sectors, in the southern states. Since candidates knowing English are at an advantage when applying for those jobs, it's natural that there should be a demand for English in schools. The economic figures for states such as UP or Bihar suggest, on the other hand, that they are missing out on a lot of job opportunities.

Rapidly rising enrolment in English-medium schools, despite official discouragement, suggests that more room ought to be made for English in school curricula. Apart from being a link language to the world, English is also an indispensable link language between Indian states. Studies have shown that know-ledge of English can break down caste and gender inequalities while allowing the hitherto underprivileged to break into white- collar professions. It's the highway not just to jobs but political modernity as well. In Maharashtra, NCP ministers have been urging the
reservation of 80 per cent jobs for locals. That's not only unconstitutional, it shows the harm that can be done by the forces of cultural chauvinism. English, which breaks down barriers between states, can act as an effective antidote.

Times of India, May 20, 2008