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The Supreme Court’s decision to stop the Karnataka government from imposing Kannada as the medium of instruction in all primary schools of the state should be viewed pragmatically and not emotionally.
We now live in a global village where English is the most essential language for global business success. Estimates show that 2 billion people worldwide will be learning English by 2020. As India’s integration with the global economy picks up pace, new job opportunities will be created wherein strong English language skills will be a key requirement. Denying our children the opportunity of picking up English language skills now would have put them at a competitive disadvantage later when they would have entered the job market.
Preventing children from accessing English language education in their formative years is not only irresponsible but irrational.
The misconception here seems to be that an overemphasis on English in schools would erode Kannada language skills in young people and hamper their ability to communicate in their mother tongue.
However, that line of thinking is completely fallacious. Scientific studies have shown that between birth and the age of ten or eleven, the human brain makes new connections all the time and that gives children the ability to quickly pick up many new skills, including multiple languages. This means that schools can simultaneously use both Kannada and English as their medium of instruction.
Therefore, insisting on using Kannada to the exclusion of all other languages in primary schools is imprudent.
Just look at what our neighbouring states are doing. To improve the teaching of English language in the state, the Maharashtra government has tied up with the British Council of India for the Maharashtra English Language Initiative for Primary Schools, under which thousands of primary school teachers have received training. Does this mean the people of Maharashtra are less devoted to their mother tongue? I don’t think so.
Cultural chauvinism is misplaced in today’s world. That is not to say that we should ignore our language and culture. Preserving our language and culture is important, but so is ensuring our economic competitiveness.
Karnataka is known for its visionary policies that have established Bangalore as the IT and BT capital of India. In that context, making Kannada the sole medium of instruction at the primary level would have been a very regressive step with the potential of undermining Karnataka’s standing as an economically progressive state.