English Medium Education Weakens India

Maria Wirth writes the following amongst her unauthorised articles on January
1,2018· MW· under the caption “English Medium Education weakens India. The Pisa
Test Proved it”:
It is no secret why the British replaced the indigenous education system and Sanskrit
gurukuls with English education. They wanted to create a class of Indians who think like
the British and in this way weaken India. Sanskrit culture und Vedic knowledge were
the backbone of Indians. This backbone had to be broken. English medium education did
it to a great extent. Indians were cut off from their precious tradition, and they had to study in a completely foreign language, as if this was an easy thing to do. Somehow, the
children of the tiny elite managed. They were motivated to make it into colonial government jobs and English was the only gateway. Naturally, these westernized students and their offspring, who had no roots anymore in their own culture, influenced the future of independent India in a big way.

So it is no surprise that even after Independence, English medium in higher education and in the ‘better schools’ which were often run by missionaries continued with the
argument that English is the necessary link language between the states. It was in the
interest of this elite and the Churches to continue with the status quo, where jobs at the top require fluency in English, as for this tiny minority, English is their mother tongue. They are not fluent in the language of the region where they were born. And they are still successful in convincing the policy makers that English medium is the way to go in education – to the detriment of India.

There is no doubt that Indian children are intelligent – in all likelihood more intelligent than their western counterparts. An NRI based in Seattle and Gurugram, Sankrant Sanu, tested the intelligence of Indian and American children via a non-verbal IQ test. Village children (from Haryana) came out on top. They outperformed their peers in Delhi and in the US. In one village over 30 per cent scored over 90th percentile which means that out of 100 Indian children over 30 were as intelligent as the topmost 10 out of 100 American children. It was an extraordinary result.

Yet in 2009, India got a severe shock, which should have woken her up, but this wake-up call was not heeded. For the first time, India took part in the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted by the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development Secretariat (OECD).Around half a million
15-year old students from 74 countries were tested for two hours in maths, science and
reading skills. Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu students were chosen to take part, as
these states were doing well in education.

When the results were out, there was celebration in Asia. Asian countries were leading
the list and had much higher ranks than Europe or USA – with one shocking exception: India came on rank 73 – second last, beating only Kyrgyzstan. The best Himachal kids were 100 points lower than their average peers in Singapore and 250 points lower than the top performers. It was a huge embarrassment. Indian experts explained that the students faced ‘language difficulty’. It was true. The problem was the language. The tests were held in the mother tongue of the respective countries: German in Germany, Japanese in Japan, but English in India. Yet there was no serious introspection.

Ever since, India did not take part in the 3- yearly PISA test, but in 2021 Kendriya
Vidyalayas are expected to take part – again students in English medium. There is probably the hope that those students will do better, as their parents, being in government service, are likely to speak good English. Yet is this representative for India? Is it not cheating India?

Being German, I know that fluency in English doesn’t come easy. But when I sometimes
advocated that Indians should study in their mother tongue including in higher education, there was always opposition from Indians fluent in English. They don’t seem to get the difference between studying in English medium and studying English as a subject. Nobody advocates not learning English. But having to read textbooks, question papers, and write essays in an alien language is too much for students and the PISA study proved the obvious.

If we need more proof, we only need to look to certain European countries today to realise that students don’t do well if they don’t understand the language. Sweden and Germany had a significant drop in their ranking in the latest PISA test in 2015, and I dare to predict that Germany will drop even further in 2018. The reason is simple: even after a year of intensive German language classes for migrant children, these children don’t speak German well enough to be good in their studies.

These migrant children at least attend German lessons for one year before they can join the regular classes. In India, children from homes where parents don’t speak any English are put into English medium schools with no preparation whatsoever. This is a disaster. I
really wonder how this can be allowed. It should be obvious that it is a huge blunder. Yet it is not only allowed but was even encouraged: Under the previous government, millions of students changed from government schools to third-rate, private ‘English’ schools, which popped up everywhere. This craze for ‘English schools’ may have been deliberately fanned by interests who don’t want a strong India, for example the Church. Parents, who do not know English, were made to believe that “English school” is the best for their children.

It is not the best but the worst. Where in the world would children be sent to a school where the teachers speak in a foreign language? Just imagine the plight of the kids. They learn to spell and can read after a while, but they don’t know the meaning of what they read. They will be left in a limbo: they are neither good in English, nor in their mother tongue. And they will dread going to schools. Forget about a happy childhood where it is fun to learn. It is a perfect recipe for teaching in vain, because no learning happens.

Any surprise that even in 5th standard, kids cannot form simple English sentences and just stare at their textbooks when their parents tell them ‘to study’. They may not miss much if they don’t understand their social study or history books, because the content is often not worth learning. But the situation is serious when it gets to maths and science. Kids cannot solve even the simplest of tasks in maths like: “put the numbers in ascending order”. The textbook authors cannot imagine that the instruction is not clear, but if you don’t know English: put, number, order, ascending… all this is a mystery. Naturally the children lose self-confidence.

 

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