The Andhra Pradesh government recently announced that it intends to transform public schools from Telugu medium to English medium. The plan has stirred a controversy. AP’s education minister Adimulapu Suresh, a former civil servant, talks to MN Samdani about the decision:
What prompted your government to suddenly convert all public schools into English medium schools right from primary level?
It was not a sudden move. It was a well-thought out call by chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy. We have taken inputs from members of an expert committee, comprising several top academics from across the country. The committee was constituted to suggest measures to revamp the entire education system in the state. The critics are just talking about English in 2020-21 academic year. Our CM has thought about its outcome in 2042 by which time the present first standard student will complete graduation. Just imagine how the world is going to change after two decades. We need to move at rapid speed to grab opportunities. It is not possible to stay afloat in the race without having command over English.
Do you think depriving children of learning in their mother tongue Telugu at primary level is really going to help them?
Studies reveal that children below the age of 12 are capable of learning at least six languages. Beginning the learning in English is not going to be a big task for them.
It’s an unneeded controversy about mother tongue. We will be having just three subjects – Telugu, English and simple mathematics up to class III. Anyway, we will be teaching Telugu in Telugu and English in English. Now, we are going to English medium for simple mathematics. Language is not a big issue here. It is no threat to the mother tongue.
We are not moving away from Telugu. We are further strengthening Telugu foundation with new tools. What many don’t know is that Telugu textbook syllabus has not been changed in AP for the past 23 years. We are revamping it with new chapters.
But there is a difference between Telugu as a language subject and medium of instruction.
We are revamping all the textbooks along with curriculum in such a way that they make the kids go creative. No more by-heart reading and writing in government schools. We are readying textbooks on CBSE and ICSE model. Students will get through only when they read the textbook and apply their mind.
Don’t you think complete conversion of educational institutions to English will threaten Telugu?
About 98.5% children studying in private schools opted for English medium. About 11 lakh children studying in government managed success schools and municipal schools are also in English medium. We wanted to take the remaining 30 lakh children studying in government schools in rural areas along with others because 95% of them are from SC, ST, BC (backward classes) and minority communities. We wanted to empower the children from the under-privileged sections with skills required to survive in the competitive world. If anyone thinks that burden of protecting the Telugu language lies solely on the shoulders of children from Dalit, weaker sections and minority communities, they are going to be proved wrong. We are here to create equal opportunities for children from all sections. However, I assure you that the government will take all measures to protect the rich heritage of Telugu language. But it is not at the cost of the educational needs of the under-privileged sections.
What about the quality of faculty?
Majority of the teachers are keen to move to English medium as they are also worried about dismal enrolment in public schools due to the absence of English. Parents from rural areas and economically backward classes too are sending their wards to private schools only for the sake of English medium studies. So everyone, including teachers, has a duty to respond to parents’ aspirations. We are setting up language labs in schools and taking help from Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL) to train the teachers. Over 60,000 teachers will undergo skill development training from January and be ready to take classes from June 2021. Reorientation of teachers will be an annual feature.
There is a strong suspicion in a section of society that CM Jagan, a practicing Christian, has done this to help spread religious conversions.
Those who are linking education to religious conversions are fools and perverts. Several million in the state have studied in English medium. Several thousands of students from AP are bagging lucrative job offers on foreign shores just because of their strong foundation in English. Can we say all of them have switched to Christianity? Those who are raking up this issue are doing so only to prevent children of Dalits, BCs and minorities from studying in English medium. They might be perturbed about their kin facing a challenge in future.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.