The Chandrababu Naidu-led Andhra Pradesh Government’s move to make English compulsory in municipal schools will be a feather in the cap to the now improving learning levels in schools, especially in rural areas. In fact, the decision is in line with the recommendations made by a committee of bureaucrats, who suggested that there should be at least one English medium school in all blocks and that science ought to be promoted.
At the crux of the matter are two things: First, India’s learning levels at schools are really low. Second, our education policies are such that it is highly divided and discriminated between the rich and the poor — this does not come as a surprise. Differences between schools in rural and urban India and also between Government schools and private schools. They exist in the form of provision for basic facilities like teachers training, amenities, infrastructure etc. However, the flip side of the story is that things are gradually changing. The just released Annual Status of Education Report shows some intriguing data on rural education which, of course, brings some reason to cheer. According to the report, primary school students in rural India have fared better not only in terms of enrolment but also in learning levels too. There was a miniscule rise in the number of class three students who could read at least class one level text – from 40.2 per cent in 2014 it rose to 42.5 per cent in 2016. The children fared no better in arithmetic. The number of class three students who could do two-digit subtraction rose from 25.4 per cent in 2014, to 27.7 per cent in 2016. As per school enrolments, village schools saw a rise in enrolment – from 18.7 per cent in 2006 to 30.7 per cent in 2014. Private school enrolments have maintained the same pace or may have perhaps seen a minuscule decline.
The problem of quality of education in Government educational institutions is more acute at the school level, especially in rural areas. Government schools serving the rural populace are not only badly run, but the medium of instruction is generally the regional language, even as parents want their child to learn English.
The importance of English in various areas of life cannot be underscored. English is our national language and also the common language for global economy. It is one of the essentials for one to fare better socially and also economically. It is an important component to achieve higher literacy rate and to move towards outcome-based reforms for better job prospects in the future.
The reason for such low levels of English education in schools lies in our education policy which has been downplayed by our policy makers who have made it a point to underscore the importance of English for political reasons. Yet another reason for the discrimination against English in State-run schools is the emergence of a large number of private-run English-medium schools. Crucially, the discrimination lies with the fact that there is a large section of population which cannot afford to send their children to private schools. The policy to make English compulsory in all schools can, perhaps, bring a change to this glitch.
Post the passage of Right to Education Act in 2009, there have been some successes, but they have been limited towards improving inputs like infrastructure, toilets, mid day meals et al. It must be understood that the root of the problem lies in improving learning outcomes. The provision for making English compulsory in State-run schools is one crucial step towards this goal. India’s education system is in dire need for reforms — this is a bold step but not the only magic wand that can transform India’s broken-down school system overnight. The Chandrababu Naidu Government must be applauded for taking a progressive step in this direction. And hopefully, other States too will follow the suit. Needless to add, regional languages which represent our cultural links, must not be ignored.