English or Kannada? Does the State know better?

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K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The recent judgement of our apex court striking down the appeal of our State government to make primary education in the mother-tongue compulsory has attracted both flak and appreciation from citizens’ groups and citizens depending on which side of the fence they stand.

What we should understand here is that the education of our children is a very personal matter in which all decisions are best left to the parents.

The State even with the help of experts in the field of education, who claim to have based their conclusions on studies, however extensive, cannot simply declare that it is easier for children to gain their education if their learning process is started in their respective mother-tongues when the experience of their parents is different.

In fact, these experts cannot claim to be more knowledgeable than most parents like me who have themselves studied in English medium schools and whose children have followed in their footsteps very comfortably.

My parents who had studied in their mother-tongue like millions of others thought it sensible to put all their children into English medium schools simply because they felt out of their personal experience that it was a better path than the one they had trod.

It is only because of this simple realisation that generations of parents in the past have taken great pains and have gone to great lengths, relocating themselves from villages and small towns to cities, often jeopardizing their occupations and livelihoods, just to enable their progeny to get a firm foothold on the most useful education.

Thanks to the proliferation of good schools even in the remotest reaches of our State today, this exodus is no longer necessary.

While I have seen dozens of cases of parents transplanting their children from mother-tongue medium schools to English medium schools, I am yet to come across someone who has thought it wise to do the opposite. When this is the case, can assumptions that come out of a few years of academic research rival the learning that comes out of generations of experience?

If research is the gold standard for determining what is good and bad for us, why do most educated and enlightened parents move heaven and earth during the school admission season year after year, standing in long queues, braving not only the sun by day but even the chill by night, before the gates of English medium schools?

Why are these schools proliferating like mushrooms after a good monsoon, while mother-tongue medium schools are going abegging for students and shutting shop in despair, unable to sustain themselves against the tide?

Before we shout ‘unfair’ at what is happening in our society we should pause for a while to ponder. To ask ourselves if this monstrously overwhelming majority of parents, desperate to give their children an English medium education can all be wrong?

What we all need is a good and useful education that while giving sustenance to our children does not kill the language of our State. This can be ensured by paving the way for education in the English medium for all those who clamour for it with a strict stipulation that the language of the State, Kannada in our case, is compulsorily taught throughout the entire schooling process, without any exception.

The State government should be satisfied if the importance of the language of the State is not undermined in any of the schools on its soil and the so-called experts if they so desire, making the best use of their wisdom, can get their kith and kin to study in their mother-tongues.

Most people who are now advocating a return to education in the mother-tongue are the ones who have never tasted the fruits of a firmly grounded education in the English medium. If the others think that ‘English medium delayed is English medium denied,’ what is wrong with it?

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: A view of the meeting of the great and the good in the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore, on Friday, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment on the medium of instruction for class 1 to IV. (Karnataka Photo News)

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