Hyderabad: The Jagan Mohan Reddy administration of Andhra Pradesh is powering through opposition criticism to switch all government schools from Telugu to English medium.
There are 44,512 government schools in Andhra Pradesh, where Telugu is the primary language.
The blueprint for the government’s plan includes practical lessons — as opposed to purely text-based instruction — in English and bridge courses that ease the transition from Telugu.
Telugu, meanwhile, will be made a compulsory subject in every class.
The government has set aside a budget of Rs 12,000 crore for the first three years of the transformation, which kicks in for Classes 1 to 6 from academic year 2020-21.
Andhra Pradesh would be the first state in the country to make English-medium lessons mandatory in schools, state education minister Dr Adimulapu Suresh told ThePrint.
“Classes 1-2-3 would not be difficult since they are basically taught Telugu, English and maths,” he said. “For Classes 4-5-6, we will provide remedial bridge courses for three to six months, along with daily classes.”
Classes 7-10 will come onboard gradually over the next four years, by 2022-23, Suresh added.
The promise of jobs
While the public has largely been warm to the move, Jagan’s decision has drawn criticism from the opposition — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Jana Sena, which is led by film star Pawan Kalyan.
Some teachers’ associations don’t share the chief minister’s enthusiasm either and want students and parents to have the option of both mediums.
Language is not a hyper-emotive issue in Andhra, as it is in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. And Jagan is not the first chief minister to move towards English-medium education.
Under his father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who led united Andhra from 2004-09, and N. Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP, several state schools started offering students a choice between English and Telugu mediums.
However, Jagan’s attempt to remove Telugu medium altogether has been criticised by opponents on the basis of nativist arguments. The chief minister remains unfazed, though, accusing critics such as Naidu, Kalyan and even Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu of being hypocrites.
They send their own children and grandchildren to “corporate schools”, he has argued, but want the poor to uphold “Telugu pride and language”.
On Thursday, launching a programme, ‘Mana badi – naadu-nedu (our school – then and now)’, to equip schools with clean toilets, safe drinking water, fans and tube lights, quality furniture, etc, Jagan said he was determined to proceed with his “ground-breaking proposal” to make every child globally competitive.
“From land lines, we evolved to smartphones and are moving towards AI, robotics and even driverless cars,” Jagan told an audience of school students, teachers and parents in the city of Ongole.
“Just imagine a child’s future in such a realm without English education. Forget competing with the world, they will end up as unskilled labourers, drivers — even that is not guaranteed since driverless cars are coming,” he said.
“The fact is, no one sends their kids to government schools where the medium of instruction is Telugu. Those politicians etc attacking me, as if the Telugu language and society would suffer because of me, should leave their hypocrisy and respect democracy,” he added. “There are challenges galore but today is the time for revolutionary decisions to secure our children’s future.”
Jagan initially wanted the plan in place for Classes 1-8 from 2020-21, Class 9 from 2021-22 and Class 10 from 2022-23, but political heat and the logistical challenges involved gave the government pause.
Resistance from teachers was also a factor. “Let both mediums run parallel for some years and let parents decide when to move to English, instead of a sudden incompatible shift that might scare children,” said Kaki Prakash Rao of the AP Primary Teachers Association.
“We are not opposed to English medium teaching but want it to be brought in gradually, as teachers at the primary level are not equipped for the change,” Rao added.
Love for English in Telugu state
As many as 62 per cent of the state’s students are enrolled in English-medium schools, pointing to the charm the language holds in a state (especially engineering students) enamoured with the American dream.
According to a 2018 study by the US-based thinktank Centre for Immigration Studies, the number of native Telugu speakers in the country rose by 86 per cent —the highest for a foreign language in the US — between 2010 and 2017.
“Andhra Pradesh is the only state — not just in this country but the entire world — where the enrolment in private sector is huge, at 49 per cent,” a senior official in the state education department said.
“And the only reason why parents from even the lower economic strata are sending their kids to private schools is that they offer English medium,” the official added. “Everybody knows the private sector’s exploitation of the parents’ desire in the state.
“English medium in government schools is not a new concept. Many residential, model primary schools are already in English medium,” the official said. “Our plan now is to cover the rest.”
The official added that teacher opposition was “minimal”, saying “this transition would be a learning experience for them too”.
English labs, bridge courses for rescue
Suresh, a former officer of the Indian Railway Accounting Service (IRAS), spoke to this reporter about his department’s plans to overcome the challenges in this mammoth transition.
“English labs will be set up in every school with the idea of imparting practical skills otherwise not teachable in a regular class,” he said. “[The plans include] Sessions with the aid of computers, headphones to provide an audio-video interaction and help the child adapt quickly to the new vocabulary and better her pronunciation.”
By the beginning of the next academic year, Suresh added, 15,715 schools would be ready to offer instruction in English.
“Hurdles are minor compared to the great benefits our children will reap,” he said.
“If I, a boy from the Dalit community, had not shifted to English medium in Class 8, I wonder if I would have become an IRAS officer. And now I am a minister supervising this vast transition, largely to aid the backward communities,” he added.