Will English dominate India in another fifty years?

English is now the third most important language in India if one goes by the medium of instruction at upper primary level. Thatís significant in a country of 22 official languages. Hindi is still way ahead which isnít surprising as Hindi speaking states are more populated and even when it comes to the number of states, Hindi is a language which is spread across several states (in the north). Here are the figures for enrolment (from National University for Education Planning and Administration (NUEPA):
  • About 50 percent of students at the upper primary level study in Hindi-medium schools
  • About 8 percent study in Marathi medium schools
  • About 6 percent of students study in English medium schools

More kids go to English medium schools than these figures show
Itís important to realise that these figures do not give the true picture as there are a huge number of unrecognized schools on the Indian educational landscape and many of these are English medium schools. A study in Punjab had revealed that about 26 percent of students of the total number enrolled study in unrecognised schools, and these unrecognized schools often have better infrastructure and facilities than government schools. This is probably true of other states as well and this means that our researchers and planners are ďmissing the visible but unseen in their analysis of the current enrolment and their plans to provide education for all.Ē

What I am trying to say is that English has far more followers that the government figures show.

Startling growth of English medium schools
According to government figures, enrolment in English medium schools (upper primary) is at an all-time high, having increased a sharp 74 percent in just three years - during 2003-2006.
The most dramatic increases are in the southern states. Only two Hindi speaking states (Punjab and Himachal Pradesh) show significant increases in enrolment in English medium schools.

  • Andhra Pradesh - 100 percent increase (from 10.6 lakh to 20.9 lakh)
  • Tamil Nadu - 17 percent increase (from 14.7 lakh to 17.2 lakh)
  • Maharashtra - 12 percent increase (10.6 lakh to 11.9 lakh)
  • Punjab (up by 93,000) and Himachal Pradesh Ė both 4 percent increase each
  • Karnataka - 2 percent increase
  • Kerala Ė 3 percent increase (from 2.4 lakh to 3.2 lakh)

Percentage figures for Gujarat were not available but the actual number of students studying in English medium schools has gone by 60,000 in the state. In Rajasthan the number is 30000 which isnít a bad figure at all although lower than the states mentioned above. Other Hindi speaking states do not show significant increases.

One needs to keep in mind that certain states (North-East for example) which already have a high percentage of students studying in English medium schools will have slower or negligible growth in enrollment into English medium schools. I wonder if at least partly that is the reason why the Gujarat figures are low as well but I do not have confirmation of this. Then there are states where overall enrollment has decreased, and these states too will show a slower growth in enrollment into English medium schools. This has happened both in Kerala and Karnataka. In Kerala the reason for low overall enrollment is thought to be to because of negligible population growth but I am not sure what the reason is in Karnataka.)

Where the northeastern states are concerned, the growth figures would be negligible as English-medium schools already have a 90 percent share of total enrolment. In Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim enrolment in English medium schools is almost 99 percent!

In Manipur, Goa and Chandigarh, itís about fifty percent, very high as compared to the rest of the states of India.

It is believed that even Jammu Kashmir has a high level of students enrolling in English medium schools but figures were not available.

Regional languages as medium of instruction on the decline
All regional language medium schools (including Hindi) are showing either a decline or a sluggishness in growth (2003-2006) in percentage terms. However when it comes to Hindi medium schools, actual numbers have increased due to a greater increase in population of Hindi speaking states.

The fall in enrolment in regional language medium schools is proportionate to the increase in English medium education.

Why do people prefer to educate their kids in English medium schools?
Itís very difficult to answer this question but I have some theories and you are welcome to add any.

  1. People feel that only English can help their kids do well in life because higher education in India is in English and all employers prefer people who speak English
  2. Some places have a larger number of good quality English medium schools than vernacular medium schools and parents want the best school for their child
  3. There is a loss of faith in government schools, most of which are not English medium schools
  4. A large number of Indians in urban areas see English as a good link language in a country where many languages are spoken. They also see English as a global link language.
  5. A large number of Indians think that English has become an Indian language and in fact we have developed our own version of English. They do not think of it as an alien language
  6. English carries with it some element of snob value and everyone wants to learn it to increase their social status

Why is there a slower growth in enrollment in English medium schools in some states?

  1. For some reason people there are not convinced about the economic benefits of English
  2. More people in the north of India see English as an alien language. This has a historical reason as the northern states bore the brunt the racism practiced by our then British rulers and the ďrising of the nationalist movement in the 1920ís brought some anti-English sentiment with it.Ē Thus the local languages became emotionally associated with nationalism and patriotism and these feelings persist to this day

What does the future hold?
The language trends are clear to see. English is growing slowly and steadily. Even in the north which is a Hindi speaking bastion, states like Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are going against the trend there. I have no doubt that a day will come, perhaps sometime in the next 50 years, when all parents will want to educate their children in English medium schools.

Is this the end of the road for our regional languages?
I doubt it. In fact I have had various opinions on this on my language post. From what I gleaned from there is that the dominant regional languages will survive. Hindi has two big advantages: one, the maximum number of Indians speak it and two, Hindi speaking states do not make it compulsory for students to learn any Indian language except Hindi. Students in other states (except Tamil Nadu) have to learn two Indian languages compulsorily (in addition to English), and while one is their mother tongue the other is Hindi. This dilutes the effort spent on their mother tongue. Most people in non-hindi speaking states grow up learning 2 Indian languages plus English and often take up a foreign language as well. As they enter college, English is the medium of instruction and although Hindi is not compulsory anymore, a language other than English is compulsory for Humanities courses. Students who feel disinclined to start learning a new language like French often take Hindi as they are already proficient at it after having learnt it at school. And in any case, not all colleges offer the students the facilities of learning a foreign language like French or German. French and German are the most popular foreign languages although this is changing and students are showing a lot of interest in Chinese and Japanese.