When Macaulay pushed for English education in India his dream was to create in his own words, “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”. Since then till now English education in India had changed by 180 degrees. Today schools no more preach a western outlook of modernity but rather concentrates on creating a sense of Indian nationalism and pride through their content. Narrations begin from ancient India and ends in the great victory of the Indian freedom fighters against the imperial British. English remains just a medium of imparting education.
Of all the realities that we know today about education in Assam, one fact which is most easily visible is that the trust of parents and guardians in government schools is decreasing continuously. A few examples of good results from schools like cotton collegiate aren’t enough to reinstate people’s belief. Although the quantity of students and teachers might have been increased due to Sarba Shiksha Abhiyaan and the TET program but there still exists a huge question mark over its quality. One more important aspect that we must realize over here is the right to choice of individuals. English education for their children, given how expensive it is, is no more a free choice for millions in the state. Has the democratic government as an insurer of equality of opportunity provided free English education to those to wish to pursue English education for their children?
For the poor it does not matter if the school is English medium or Assamese medium as long as it is private. It is simply beyond the reach. So beyond that we can see that people are slowly getting more and more attracted towards English medium schools. The middle income bracket people who can somehow (withstanding a lot of hardship) manage to send their kids to private schools are going for it instead of an Assamese medium government school where education is for free. Reason? Because a circular problem has got created. Something that goes like this: A notion that quality of teaching in government schools is not up to the mark of private English medium schools, so parents generally prefer sending kids to private schools, now because more students go to private schools the quality of students coming into government school degrades, this in turn dis-incentivises the government paid teachers to give in their efforts to teach, and this continues. Now where can we break this deadlock? A lot has been spoken about changing the system. While efforts for that continues we can also look into the other possible side. The state education minister of Assam recently announced that on a trial basis 20 government schools with low attendance will be converted to English medium schools.
The AASU, AGP, AJYCP and other organizations didn’t take even a second to decry this move as unfair to the vernacular language. In this matter I will strongly oppose their stance. This is not such a binary question. Language & education: its quality and availability are two completely different matters. It is but shameful for us to even voice that turning a certain number of government schools to English medium will harm our language and culture. Are the fundamentals of this Assamese nation so weak that the moment English medium education is introduced it will shake them off? Respect towards a culture imbibes a respect towards the language and the people who speak it. Respect comes upon knowing about the culture. That can be done even in English medium schools provided the content is prepared accordingly. But on the contrary the benefits it will bring to Government education as a whole can be mammoth. English medium will incentivise a few parents at least to send their kids to these schools. The teachers brought in to these schools will be mostly from the new brigade with special training of English or English educated themselves. With the government being more cautious and careful about the output from these schools the performance of these schools are meant to be good. Now this instils back a lot of credit to government education. Some fear of a snowballing effect arising out of it. But that even the government of a democratically elected party will avoid knowing the consequences very well. Furthermore, we have to analyze few more things in long term. What if the teachers of these schools and few others Assamese medium schools conduct exchange program? Won’t it improve the quality of the Assamese schools? With faith back in government schools few parents will consider the option of Assamese medium government schools too. So in the long run will English schools not be instrumental in breaking the deadlock the Assamese medium schools are currently facing? Yes, yes and yes.
Lastly on the choice argument, just because I was born in a poor family cannot limit me from English education. For a government that promises equality of opportunity, it should also give an option of English education. Why is it that the poor are always given to fight the rich Man’s war? The affluent class sends their kids to private English medium schools. But when the question of changing a few government schools to English medium comes they simply object. In the name of culture, language and what not, do they really think that a poor person living in a rural Assamese village will forget or neglect his language and culture just because his chapters are in English language. In fact being more able to connect to the outside world he will be able to bring more light to his people and ensure a sustainable future of the culture.
But what makes me say this. I have seen, met, interacted with students of English medium private schools, Assamese medium private schools and Assamese medium government schools. I strongly feel that language of instruction is never a threat to the vernacular language. Many English educated students have been able to carry the Assamese culture much better than their Assamese educated counterpart. It is also true that many Assamese educated students have a better grip over the English language then the English education counterparts. Attaching a value judgement with the medium of instruction is farcical. A bunch of Assamese youth with good knowledge of Assam is much more desirable than a pool of students with education in Assamese medium but no real knowledge. And this knowledge can come in any medium of instruction. The present system of Macaulay’s education policy laid in the beginning was just an example to exemplify this.
Finally many argue that “it is unfair to look towards English medium government schools when the vernacular ones are facing extinction”. Two things in this regard, firstly the government isn’t drawing out funds from vernacular schools to open these English schools. Secondly why on earth should we tie these two issues? One is a policy decision and another is to some degree failure in resource allocation and management. I don’t see those crossing lines at any point. Both can be tackled in parallel ways. On a larger scale if we see, the bigger reason why vernacular schools are not doing well is not because of lack of funds but simply because there are no students willing to enrol there. I strongly hope that the education minister goes ahead with this policy and does not back out of fear of electoral loss for this in the long run will prove to be one of the most visionary steps in the history of Assam.