Mother tongue or English? What should be the medium of education?

To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.

The above is the theme for International Mother Language Day 2017, which falls on February 21. Says Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO: “On the occasion of this Day, I launch an appeal for the potential of multilingual education to be acknowledged everywhere, in education and administrative systems, in cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade.”

The world acknowledges that learning in the mother tongue is the need of the hour.

And yet….

…..the label of English medium is so fascinating that everyone rushes to one, notably the working and labour classes. And so we have English medium schools mushrooming all over the place, never mind their quality and credentials. These schools target the labour class comprising of maid/driver/plumber/gardener etc., for whom it is a status symbol to send their children to one. They don’t mind paying several times the fees in addition to other expenses these schools charge, for the privilege of claiming that their children also attend English medium schools like the children of their employers!

One can’t entirely blame them, for mother tongue-medium students are looked down upon as being academically inferior and less intelligent, whereas quite often, the opposite is true. Also, with so much emphasis being given on English as the medium of education, one is hard put to find enough good text books in technology and science in regional languages. And then there is the question of a career in an MNC. It is an undeniable fact that knowledge of both spoken and written English does open the doors to more career opportunities.

But one has to ask, ‘Is it worth the money spent in sending them to English medium schools?’ Compared to children who are exposed to English at home and their environment, these children have no exposure to the language at all. So it is not uncommon to find intelligent children languish in their studies because they can’t understand simple concepts taught in English. They copy the lessons from the blackboard and mug them up without understanding a word. Needless to say, this leaves them traumatized, especially if they intelligent and they are unable to shine due to the language barrier.

Remember my post about the summer school for slum children that is run in a park in our colony? Well, it is still running in the park (after a break during the monsoons) as they haven’t found a place, and the numbers have only swelled. Among the children who come to get some extra coaching from the dedicated volunteer teachers, there are a number of children who go to one or the other of these English medium schools. You can tell them apart because of their reticence to mingle freely, their faint sense of superiority and their reluctance to show that they don’t know a concept being taught.

One of the teachers** who teaches math and science to the high school kids in this school, says,

‘These kids are under great pressure. Outwardly, they have to maintain a façade of intelligence, while being aware that their peers in Marathi/Hindi medium schools are academically better than them. And the conflict shows in their faces.  They are not able to learn even the basic concepts of the subjects in English at school. It is so sad to see intelligent students being reduced to duds this way. When we teach them in Hindi, they easily grasp the concepts and the joy shows in their faces.’

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He explains further:

‘They spend all their time mentally translating the English words into their mother tongue till they hear a word they can recognise. This constant mental activity naturally doesn’t allow them to listen to the lesson being taught. Let us say for example that the teacher is teaching a lesson on dogs. When they hear the familiar word ‘dog’, their brain translates it into kutta/naai/kutra/kukka or whatever the word is in their mother tongue. They feel a sense of accomplishment for they know what the word ‘dog’ means, don’t they? And at that Eureka moment, the brain stops working and nothing further goes into their heads. Similarly, you say Triangle to an eighth standard student and if she understands what it means, she thinks, ‘Ah, that means tikon!’ and stops at that. It is as if they have found the validation and justification of their studying in English medium.

‘Now let’s say you are teaching them in their own language: the words they hear open up a host of images and associated facts about the subject. The girl or boy thinks about dogs, how they behave, what they look like and so on. They get interested in learning further about it, whether it is a dog or a triangle and begin paying attention to the teacher instead of switching off. Learning in one’s language stimulates the brain into thinking, imagining.’

He spends a lot of time trying to convince both the parents and children of his school that it is more important to be good in studies which would be easier for them in their own mother tongue.  He also impresses upon them that some of the best brains in our country have had their education in their mother tongues.

He is quick to add though: ‘This is not to say that these children from economically deprived classes can’t cope with English. They can if they get good teaching in the school and a lot of coaching at home. Just going for tuitions is not a solution as they learn more of rote learning there too.’

What he speaks out of experience is being corroborated by studies the world over.

The consensus seems to be that unless children have some exposure to English, it is best for them to learn in the language they are familiar with, whether it is their mother tongue or the language spoken around them. Read this link for some insights.

I also found this interesting observation by Professor Angelina Kioko in one of the British Council pages.

“…when learners start school in a language that is still new to them, it leads to a teacher-centred approach and reinforces passiveness and silence in classrooms. This in turn suppresses young learners’ potential and liberty to express themselves freely. It dulls the enthusiasm of young minds, inhibits their creativity, and makes the learning experience unpleasant. All of which is bound to have a negative effect on learning outcomes.”

According to another study conducted in South Africa, “Among children in schools of a similar quality and coming from similar home backgrounds, those who were taught in their home language during the first three years of primary school performed better in the English test in grades four, five and six than children who were exposed to English as the language of instruction in grades one, two and three.”

Perhaps educators in the decades immediately after Independence the importance of learning in one’s own tongue. During my childhood, for instance, there were not too many English medium schools. Even in English medium schools, (other than the Jesuit-run convent schools), the primary classes were taught only in the mother tongue. I had my primary education in Tamil and it was not difficult for me or my classmates to smoothly shift over to English medium from fifth standard onwards.

However, it looks like English medium schools hold the imagination and purse strings of the people, whether or not their children benefit by them.

I would love to hear what your thoughts are about this subject.

** The ‘Teacher’ is none other than the L&M. Both he and his sister did their schooling in Hindi medium before going on to college education  in English medium – he in Engineering and she in Science. Both were excellent students, but with a large joint family to support, their father couldn’t afford the fees and allied expenses of convent schools. Only their mother was very unhappy that her children never wore smart uniforms or spoke English like the children of her friends and relatives. It had added to the pressure, he remembers.

‘I had spent the better part of my vacation before joining college, watching Hollywood movies and reading bestsellers, looking up difficult words in the dictionary,’ he laughs remembering. He was a school topper who still had a massive complex about not being able to converse in English as his classmates from convent schools did. Still he had held his own because his grasp of the subjects was excellent and it was just a matter of time before he became familiar with the English language textbooks.

That the intervening decades have not blunted those memories makes him empathetic towards these children and their trauma of being pushed into English medium schools.

Note: The Bharatvani Project, which was launched in 2015 by the HR Ministry has digitised  content in 60 Indian languages for free consumption. The languages include those which we have not even heard of – Mundari, Shina, Thadou and more!

Homepage image courtesy:Mail & Guardian

30 comments

  1. I myself feel more comfortable with people who converse in my mother tongue, and same way I could learn everything faster in my mother tongue..but in India educated means someone knowing english..its totally frustrating to see the people giving more respect to peole wearing western dresses and speaking english.
    English is a language just like any other except that its more widely known.so we should start it from V class..initially children shouldnt be burdened with multiple languages.
    My grandson is studying in Switzerland and there schools teach and speak only German, english they start much later.

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    1. Hi Renu, good to see you! Our generation had it good in terms of schooling I guess. I studied up to 4th in Tamil medium and then shifted to English. It was not at all difficult as English had been the second language in the primary section. After 5th it became the first language. We studies Hindi and Tamil too. Yes the snobbery associated with English is something that makes people well versed in the language look down upon those who are not. You should visit the link Beloo has provided in her comment. It has well researched articles about the importance of learning in one’s own tongue. And yes, most countries follow their own mother tongue and are doing so well. Ironically our students who go to Germany, Russia and Japan have to learn in those languages! And yet they will never dream of learning anything in their mother tongue – leave alone as a medium, they won’t even want to learn their own language!

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  2. This is such an important and thought provoking post and you have written it so exquisitely and with lot of insights. You are right. The child’s mind is very sharp, so I think it is a better idea to teach them in their mother tongue for the first few years and then transition to English (if they want to).

    At young age, I feel that we are able to grasp language very easily (at least from personal experience), so the transition would be smooth, as you have pointed out as well. I want to say medium shouldn’t matter, but I am not sure if it will apply to everyone.

    As usual, an enlightening read. 🙂

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    1. Great to see you here after a long while, Raj! Today with so much English spoken and heard in our homes, our children would be more at home in English as the medium of instruction. The change has come to stay over a long period now and they can’t go back to learning in the mother tongue. So many families don’t even converse in their mother tongue or any Indian language anymore. But in semi urban and rural areas and our own slum colonies, English is still alien to them children and their parents.Even in rural Tamil Nadu we can see this, but fortunately parents send their children largely to Tamil medium schools. TN has a well developed education system even in higher education, am I right?

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  3. Actually I read this important post but did not know how to comment..😕
    Mother tongue is important and would make it easier for many to learn at school but since English seems to be important too it needs to be studied if introducing it later with good teachers would suffice. But leaving it until they leave school would make it hard for many.. although I know a lady who studied in Malayalam medium school but who is now an excellent teacher in English. This could be an exception or a talent that a few exhibit for language.
    Good teaching is the only way out but is that in abundance?

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    1. The issue is not us or our children, but those who are not exposed to English as our children are. There are so many remote areas in the country where it would be wonderful if there are good vernacular medium schools and teachers who can prepare their children to compete in academics with the English medium urban students. Removing the stigma of vernacular medium itself would go a long way. Did you see the Samrat atta ad I had shared in the post – about Hindi medium lunch? That kind of stigma makes people fall blindly to moneymaking English medium schools. Wouldn’t you agree that it is better to turn out good students in their own language than duds who have a so called English medium education? Your friend was a brilliant student which made her a good teacher even in English, the language she learnt later in life. She is not the only example: My friend Lakshmi who has left a comment here was a vernacular medium student, just as my husband and Beloo were. And they are all excellent teachers too – all three of them. Taking away the snobbery associated with English medium would be the first step. Thanks for the comment, Asha 🙂

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  4. Finally found the time and quiet to read this very important post. Didn’t want to rush through it because I knew you would be bringing in many different but inter-related aspects of this very important challenge in our education system. Your post touches upon the issues of equity, of equitable opportunity, of lack of quality in so many schools, of class-ism and elitism, of mindless imposition of a foreign tongue as the marker of social and academic success, of completely disregarding other Indian languages in higher education, of slavish mentality of our educational thinkers/politicians/social commentators, of the overall indifference by the powerful elites to the ground realities, of the pressures of a global economy and its related job markets etc. I don’t think it is even possible to fathom the kind of injustice we as a society are doing on our younger generation by forcing them to seek economic/social success only through the route of English language! So, many thanks for writing this post and bringing out so many things to light in a very ‘ground-report’ type of piece with real voices of people who are trying to do something about the situation.

    I studied in Hindi medium till 10th, and even though it was English medium for the last two years of schooling the social interaction language was always Hindi in our school. So I know first hand how hard I had to overcome my own sense of inferiority when I went to college and saw all those convent educated elitist girls and boys speaking in furr-furr English…the system really makes a native language speaker feel less about herself. So I can relate to what your L&M says!

    I think it is high time our HRD ministry does something really meaningful and serious about providing higher education opportunities (Engg, medicine, technical, vocationa and other social science subjects etc) in different Indian languages. That will automatically create a demand for native language schools. Are you familiar with Sankrant Sanu’s work on Bhasha-neeti? It is a website worth exploring if you haven’t done so already. http://www.bhashaneeti.org/

    Please share this post on twitter tagging ministry of HRD and Prakash Javedkar. I am also doing it 🙂

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    1. Thanks Beloo for the very insightful comment and the tweet/tweet suggestion. I followed your advice. You know, I am told that I bring a lot of varied thoughts into the post and sometimes I wonder if I am not confusing the reader. Which is why I try to bundle them all in the opening para itself 😀 Having once been a journalist, we were taught this trick – in case the sub-editor chopped off the piece without bothering about cutting off the punch line or some important point without even reading it 😛

      We do need good books in science and engineering, not to speak of medicine, in . regional languages. If our students go to Germany and Russia to study engineering and medicine in those languages, why not in our regional languages? That would be such a boon to vernacular medium students who can continue to shine. I remember an FB post by Maria Wirth who had emphatically said that if Indians were allowed to study in their own tongues, they would shine in their fields. But with such a stranglehold on the population by the votaries of English, this seems a distant possibility. What I fail to understand is how someone who is studying in Russian can work globally but not someone studying in say, Hindi or Tamil, if they are good in their field.

      I am not a regular reader of Sankrant Sanu, but do read posts shared by you or published in Swarajya. The website is a treasure trove and I shared it with the L&M too. I was laughing at your description of the furr..furr English by convent girls 😀 Though I was an English medium student from middle school onwards, my spoken English was not good (still not good enough) as we spoke either Hindi.Marathi/Tamil in school and outside too. When I came to college these convent girls gave me a massive complex but only till the first term. Their mastery was in the accent and knowledge of English movies and songs. We were much better at studies and other extra curricular activities.

      As for the HRD ministry doing something about the medium of education, it would attract so much outrage from our liberals and media that nothing meaningful would come out. I do feel so pessimistic sometimes 😦

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  5. In most of the schools, which follow a regional language as the core medium of communication, the teachers explain facts in the regional language. This used to be fine in the rpevious times, but now a days more and more people aim to move outside their native land seeking better job opportunities in other countries and states and the need to have a common medium of communication arises then. I would never want to communicate with my friends or family in English, but then spoken English is oerfected only through practice. The situation has become dire these days when the ability to communicate matters a lot. The schools could take up English as the core medium, but they should never neglect their mother tongue. It should and ought to be included in the curriculum. I do feel that more children should be encouraged to read books on their regional language too in addition to improving their knowledge in english. See, in the long run, ambitions matter, but what would happen to our identity. Aren’t we Indian’s first and foremost? There should be a fine balance between followinf mother tongue and english medium. As to teaching English we definitely need more qualified teachers. A mistake once learnt is difficult to correct and the knowledge provided to the students in school should be error free.

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    1. Very well argued points about English and regional languages being taught with equal emphasis. But as I said at the outset, this is about making children who have no knowledge or exposure to English. With such a background, it would be difficult for them to understand anything of what they are learning. My maid’s son is a brilliant student, who studied in his mother tongue Telugu till his 8th standard. With an ambition to going for higher studies to other states, he persuaded his parents to shift him to another school in English medium. Since he was well versed in the basic concepts of maths and science, he found it only marginally difficult to cope and he scored over 90 in his 10th Boards. He is continuing to do well in his +2.

      As for our children and those of the urban educated classes, it is enough if they learn at least one regional language in addition to English. They can’t be forced to study in vernacular medium as even the parents might not be able to teach them anything, not being well versed in their own tongue. As you say, it is inevitable to speak in English to improve fluency and sometimes for the sake of making an impression. But when the drop out rates are high among the labour class, it is a good idea to at least let the children learn something before they quit. What is the point of getting promoted (no child is failed nowadays) till high school and not knowing a thing? Believe me, there are tens of thousands of those. And who is going to give them employment in big companies, leave alone multinationals? Instead, if they are good in their academics, at least they can get jobs with some extra coaching in English. Simply arguing that many languages should be taught to children as they are good at learning them, without understanding who the focus is on, would be completely off the mark.

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  6. Your posts are never easy to comment. One has first sort out the multitude of emotions in the head. I feel guilty of taking for granted a privilege and not doing enough. It gladdens me that when the ‘maids’ in our complex talk about their daughters schooling and the tutors they have kept for them to help them with their studies. It is heartening to know that they seek a better life for their kids and know education is the great enabler.

    Yet over 50% of our graduates are unemployable and MBAs are applying for the post of a sweeper in UP.

    These are the gullible class who get exploited by private institutes looking to make a quick buck, With RTE these children are finally getting access to private schools and quality education. But is it enough? Most of the kids can’t cope up with an alien medium of teaching and hostile teachers and students.

    These kids need extra coaching, extra care and diligence. Doubt if our over-worked teachers will be able to provide it. I’m hoping your post will encourage many of us to be the Good Samaritan and lend a helping hand.

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    1. Oh yes, the drop out rate is very high for this class of working people as they feel that with a minimum education the children are able to cope and make money helping in the family business or work – like the presswala, the maids, the driver etc. I remember writing on this phenomenon too.

      As I had said in my reply to another comment, RTE is mostly counterproductive and the children from underprivileged classes suffer more than they benefit. It is the same as when they go to downmarket English medium schools that cater exclusively to them. They need extra coaching, but they would shine better if they learnt in their own language. Learning English on the side to augment their knowledge of the language is doable and actually helpful too. And yes, we can all do a little bit one student at a time. They thrive in that kind of one-to-one attention, believe me and they work very hard to prove that they are good and are not wasting our time.

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  7. It was easy for children to study in regional language mediums and feel comfortable. Those days are gone. My two sisters studied in Tamil medium schools and even now they regret about it. I was pushed to English medium (one section was English medium class in that school) section by my aunt who was a teacher there. It was not easy for me (6th std.) in the beginning. Then I picked up and was good later. My sister who joined a nearby school in Tamil medium was an average student. When she joined PUC, I used to translate every sentence in the economics book into Tamil about the sentences, so that she could follow them. I remember her arguing with my mother for not joining her in English medium. Mother didn’t know that it was so important then. 5 children and we were on our own always.

    Yes, I feel sad when I see parents who are Tamils, speaking to their children in English at home. The children are never going to know their real mother tongue ever. My Tamil classic books will sleep after my time, though we speak in Tamil at home. I talk to them about Tamil classics often. They just listen with a blank face:) Regional languages are dying or nearly dead already.

    My maid and driver send their children to English medium schools now, which is good for their future. Second language is Hindi…they say we need to know Hindi in the future than Tamil! I got both of them good dictionaries in Hindi and English.

    You have chosen an interesting topic here, Zephyr! Sometimes I feel my English is Tamil translation English….the sentence making! Because I think in Tamil!

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    1. I shared the husband’s story only to show that with good exposure to English, even late in schooling/college, it is possible to catch up with the others from English medium. While he had to take Hindi medium because his parents couldn’t afford the fees, the examples of my friends Lakshmi, who has shared her experience affirms the fact. But when it comes to the children of the maid or driver, they have a handicap in that they don’t get to hear English spoken around the house or get newspaper or magazines to pore over or even English programmes to listen to the language. I am sure that your sisters have caught up well in the language but feel bad about not learning in English medium, that is all. These children however, not only can’t understand their lessons, but also have no way of learning the language. Good of you to have given them dictionaries to them. If you have the time, you could help them catch up too 🙂 Some of them are so intelligent it makes you feel bad that they are not getting better chances.

      You do write pretty well, Sandhya! I only see the ‘heart’ in your posts and it is beautiful 🙂

      RTE has proved counterproductive in many cases as they feel out of place in the posh schools and the parents of other children object to them being there, as they feel that the fees they are paying is going to these children! Unless the child is exceptionally intelligent, he or she can’t cope especially as they don’t get extra attention.

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  8. Lakshmi Rao · · Reply

    Oh Thangamani …wonderful blog , we need a full day to discuss this topic because somewhere I found that you wrote my story. Except for my younger brother, none of us (we are 9 ) studied in English medium & we have no regrets. We all were holding excellent positions & did full justice to our education. As a teacher I would like to share thousands of my experiences. In short I would like to say as a teacher if you have tons of patience then nothing is impossible for you.

    Apart from my routine teaching job I used to teach slum children & in a blind girls’ hostel but my subject was English . As far as language is concerned, you can play act and explain the word or a sentence without giving them another language meaning option, because once you give them the option they always expect it. Many times it used to take days to explain but patience is the main thing while teaching children. For the blind school I opted mostly for touch therapy …yes I worked very hard with these kids but the results were extraordinary .

    In fact I found that children from non-English speaking background were doing much better than English speaking children. Yes, I agree all teachers will not take this much pain.

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    1. So happy to have you here, Lakshmi! Every point you have made is worth pondering upon. Teachers who love teaching can work wonders with these children. There are so many of them who want to learn and have this thirst to learn. One of the girls who comes home to study English with me is in eighth standard in the Marathi medium. She works hard at home doing housework, does her extra lessons with my husband and me and is now preparing for a scholarship exam! You feel like hugging a child like that, don’t you?

      In our generation, there were more vernacular medium schools than there were English medium and parents who had made North India their homes didn’t think twice before sending their kids to those schools because the standard of education was very good too, right? But with systematic foisting of English on people and holding it up as the best, the minds of these parents have got fixed on it as the only choice. Like you said, we should also talk about this offline 🙂

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      1. You are absolutely right Zephyr . I used to teach one first year B com student (Gujarati medium )in a city bus while going to school . After so many years last year I met him & he told me that he is well settled in Australia now it’s difficult for me to understand his Australian English 😉…… An example of thirst to learn .

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        1. Wow! Teaching in a bus! that boy must have been so eager to learn. It is really heartening to see such children bloom in life, isn’t it?

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  9. I wish I had my mother tongue as a language to learn in school, because I still am not fluent to write or read in it. Besides, English being everywhere I never found the need to learn it on my own too, although I should have. But then I’m glad I learnt in an English medium school. Sure it is a little rough in the beginning but over the years we can get used to it. It is important to implement spoken English so the students learn to converse well too.

    Today I study in a national institute with students all over the country, and I see the importance of the language now. Most students who’ve studied in non English medium schools struggle with the language and fail to bond with the non resident students. Others on the other hand have a head start. This is a sudden change for those who are new to English. Therefore I think it is better that we’re introduced to English early in school rather than struggle later. Mother tongue could be a language learnt in school.

    For better opportunities outside of the state, I think English medium will give us good practise. Although the problem of having teachers with poor English is to be looked into.

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    1. your generation can never be comfortable learning in mother tongue medium, Darshana! You are all well exposed to the language and it would be rather foolish to even try. But as I said in my reply to Rachna, this post is not at all about our children, it is about those kids who come from deprived backgrounds and whose parents themselves are not educated or if they are, they are educated in their mother tongue. For these kids, there should be committed teachers who will spend time to bring them up the standard – like my friend Lakshmi, who has commented in about her experiences, else it is a doomed choice. Do read her comment 🙂

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  10. Your post made me think about my maid. She is happy that her daughter goes to an English medium school and I know the kid is struggling. A smart kid unfortunately facing a very similar handicap you talked about, I am sure. But I don’t know if talking about it will bring about a change.. Because for her it’s more than just education.. It’s after all “English medium” which she can say with pride.

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    1. We can try to convince them, Asha. We are doing it and I am glad to say that we managed to convince two parents to change the medium of their children’s education. One reason is that they are seeing the improvement in the performance of the vernacular medium children – with the extra/corrective coaching they are getting in the {ark School, while their children are just watching without learning anything. So try talking to her with all your reasoning and persuasive powers. If you or your son can give some lessons to the girl in English on weekends and holidays. Some of them are smart enough to pick up English with a little help. Maybe she too will improve if she is smart.

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  11. We siblings were sent to an ‘English Medium’ school because the hindi medium school used to have some rough children. Also parents wouldn’t be knowing what was taught to us bcoz they hardly knew hindi at that time 🙂
    We are a confused generation Mami. We feel inferior talking in our mother tongue at home, vernacular medium…. that is too far.
    Many a times I have watched children speaking in broken english or improper grammar while their parents watch them in pride
    India may be shining but it is a long way till we pride ourselves on being Indian, our languages or our culture

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    1. If this is true of the middle class, what can we say about the labour class being dazzled by the label of English medium educated, never mind they have learnt nothing? I have not tried to sell mother tongue medium to everyone, only those who have no exposure to the language. In times when even parents speak English in place of the mother tongue, how can the children be familiar with anything other than English? To put such kids in vernacular medium schools would be as disastrous as the maid/driver’s kids studying in English medium!

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  12. Your post has raised such a storm of thoughts that I’m certain my fingers will not be able to keep up with my brain as I try to type them all out. Nevertheless, let me take a deep breath and try.

    I have a school in the very next lane to my house. An ‘English Medium’ school without the standard one expects from a decent school. The kids of the entire locality go to the school. My own house help is proud to send her kids there. She feels she is giving them a better start in life than what she got. In fact, she pins her hopes on seeing her sons live a far better life than she has ever hoped for herself. Which is all very well.

    As you said, her kids are floundering. They hate school because they can make no sense of the language. The day their teacher takes pity on them and teaches in Hindi, they are happy. But it all comes to naught because they must reproduce their knowledge in English during exams.

    Secondly, the quality of manpower such schools attract is pathetic. The teachers do NOT know English. They are unqualified to teach in English. As a result they end up teaching all manner to wrong things to the children. That adds another dimension of difficulties to the whole sad mix.

    It is an absolutely pointless exercise. The poor parents end up paying through their nose in the fond hope that they are doing all they can to provide a good background to their child. The child dare not voice his protest at all, or if he does he is made to shush up and called ungrateful. Most of the teachers are too underpaid and under-skilled to give a damn either way. Those who care are too few and far in between to do much by themselves. And the result is, we end up ‘educating’ a whole bunch of kids who are utterly confused and have zero confidence in their knowledge.

    As they say in Hindi, मुर्गी जान से भी गयी और खाने वाले को मज़ा भी नहीं आया.

    Pathetically pointless. I do wish they would stop this silliness. But who will bell the cat?

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    1. Reading your comment was just like listening to the L&M 🙂 He is banging his head against the wall telling the parents of some of the intelligent kids to change their school so that they would get good marks and gain confidence. Yes, they can understand better in their own language but since he doesn’t know Marathi, he teaches them in Hindi and they are able to understand perfectly. It is just picking the language they can understand. I don’t know if you have seen the video of a Bihar school teacher teaching English that had gone viral a couple of years ago. Why push them to teach a language they themselves are not familiar with?

      Unfortunately, the parents feel that the more intelligent their children are, the more the reason for them to study in English medium and yes, most schools are like the one that you have in your lane. All we can do is to educate the parents on the need for learning first and then go for English – speaking and writing – once they reach a certain level. I am teaching English to two girls in the 8th standard from this Park school. They are in Marathi medium schools and readily grasp the lessons I give them. One of the girls had brought her cousin who is in the 6th standard in the English medium and she doesn’t know even the meaning of simple sentences. She just mugs up the lines that her teacher has written on the blackboard. And she acts so smug with the older girls treating her with awe 😦

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  13. Very thoughtful post, Zephyr. It is a difficult situation for the underprivileged when it comes to learning English. I can, however, assure you that the bright ones from them do still make a mark. Many of my counterparts in engineering hailed from lower strata but have risen to very high positions having learned the language mostly on their own. But yes for masses there is still a huge gap that needs to be bridged

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    1. That these kids can learn and cope is a known fact. My husband (L&M) is teaching them and he says the same thing. Only, they need a lot of coaching and hard work, which only some are able to put in. The false status that the parents hanker for, puts them under tremendous pressure. Why not let them learn their lessons first and then give them extra coaching in English? There are many professional courses like the ones offered by British Council and Teach India that are either free or offered at highly subsidised fees.

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  14. Very interesting topic. I have never studied in a Hindi medium school and there was a lot of exposure to English at home, so yes I would think that my kids would benefit from studying in English medium. As you rightly pointed out, one needs to be able to converse, read and write in English fluently to have opportunities both in India and globally. Mother tongue language schools have another challenge enough student strength unless it is the state language. I don’t think there are any Hindi medium schools here in Bangalore or even Tamil or Malayalam. So, what do the people whose mother tongue does not sync with the state language do? Besides the deplorable standard of government school is something that we all know about.

    There is another reason why parents may hold back sending their kids to local language schools. Since most of these are government schools, children from lower strata of society come here more often. Many parents will just not have their children mingle with them. That is why we had a lot of resistance for RTE in schools. It is not only an elitist issue. I was having a chat with a teacher in my children’s school who was complaining how some RTE children come from rough backgrounds and they also feel that they don’t fit in private schools making them resentful.

    I do agree that it does make sense to teach in mother tongue to ensure that the child understands the concepts well at least in primary school especially if the parents are not fluent in English. But finding a good mother tongue medium school is tough. I am afraid that this topic has no real right or wrong answers in the real world.

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    1. Oh Rachna, this post is not at all targeted at the children of educated middle and upper middle class people or even those who have exposure to English in some form or the other. But it expressly targeted at the children who come from economically weaker backgrounds and the children of the labour class. It also talks only about schools that cater to this target. I have nowhere said that ALL children should study only in their mother tongues. That is why I brought in this park school where the L&M teaches children from these backgrounds. And you know, he studied in Hindi medium though we are Tamilians 🙂 And that was because they had lived only in the Hindi heartland and both the children were familiar with the language. So if someone wanted to send their children to Kannada medium schools, it should be ok.

      Again, this is not targeted at people like you and me 🙂 Our children can perfectly be at home with teaching in English, but the child of your maid might be all at sea, especially if she sends her kids to one of the so called English medium schools which don’t have either competent teachers or the standards needed to impart education in English. For them it is most important to learn something instead of going for the status symbol of an English education! Studies all over the world, especially in colonies of the British, including England itself are proving that such children would and are doing well if taught in their mother tongues. I have not given links to the numerous links I read on this topic from England and many African countries, just a few 🙂

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