The Andhra Pradesh government is doing an unusual experiment in the education sector. In 2019, it introduced English as the medium in government schools from class I to VI — a move stuck in legal trouble. Now the government has made English the medium of teaching in all UG colleges. The state’s young and ambitious chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had to fight several battles to do so.
The hypocrite intelligentsia of the state, who educate their own children in costly private English-medium schools, opposed the move and made it a huge ‘mother tongue’ issue. They shouted ‘mother tongue is like mother’s milk’. When the shouting did not cow down Jagan, they went to court.
The Andhra chief minister launched a counter-attack by exposing their hypocrisy and deployed his young cadre and leaders to counter their street and media fight. The Telugu Desam Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Left forces opposed him and said he was anti-Telugu. But Jagan stood his ground because English medium education was part of his navaratnalu (nine jewels) programme and a promise in his election manifesto.
Jagan also made one Telugu subject compulsory in private and government schools, and ordered all textbooks to be printed in bilingual mode. The same lesson will have the English version on one page and the Telugu version on the other for all subjects. His critics had no option but to keep quiet because this also pushed their own children into learning two languages, even in private schools. Many private English medium schools till then were not allowing Telugu learning at all.
Jagan’s education overhaul
Jagan Mohan Reddy got the support of the people because most rural, farmer, and middle-class parents prefer English medium education in government schools. No court can go against a child’s right to education in preferred medium, a principle the Supreme Court of India upheld in many judgments.
The right to English-medium education cannot be confined only to the private sector. Child is a child; their right is right whichever school they study in — private or government.
Jagan backed his English medium agenda with the Amma Vodi (mother’s lap) scheme, which gives a school-going child’s mother Rs 15,000 per year for educational expenditure along with total fee reimbursement for college education. Added to this, under Nadu-Nedu (earlier and today) scheme, he is investing huge amounts in changing the school infrastructure all across the state. This scheme is more concrete and qualitative than Arvind Kejriwal’s programme in Delhi. Andhra Pradesh is also a bigger state.
The chief minister also has clubbed the anganwadis with primary schools from this academic year, and increased the staff and school facilities. The government gives quality mid-day meals with a fixed menu for each day. The quality of food is better than in most states. A few days back, Jagan announced that there will be a primary school within one kilometre of every child’s house, a high school within three kilometres, and two junior colleges within seven-eight kilometres. All these institutions will be English medium, with a strong Telugu component in one subject.
The Andhra Pradesh government also launched a massive teacher-training programme to enable teachers to teach both in English and Telugu.
No leader focuses so much on education. Jagan Reddy is young a man of just 48. He has a long political life left. In fact, he is the youngest chief minister with his own regional party running the government in the country. If he continues this education agenda, he will leave a major mark on the nation’s public educational policy.
A model for equality
It is well known that education is the most durable property in one’s life. It is better than gold. English education for Dalits, Adivasis and Shudras works like a gold mine in one’s own travel bag. This has been proved time and again.
But the post-Independence Indian rulers denied equal medium education by establishing two separate sectors—public regional language and private English language. The food producers and other labouring masses are starved for English language education in the garb of regional and national sentimentalism. The formation of linguistic states abetted that sentiment and worked in the interest of the English-educated elite.
Jagan Mohan Reddy is breaking that sentimental chain. He regularly reviews his education projects. No other chief minister is known for such a focus on education. His education budget allocation is fairly good. It appears that he also uses other resources for his education schemes.
Although the Narendra Modi government’s New Education Policy worked out a somewhat improved model of education, its language policy does not help provide globally competitive education to the rural and poor masses who cannot afford private English-medium schools. A new contradiction is emerging in the education sector during the BJP era. On the one hand, it is rigid about regional language school education in state government schools, on the other, it allows a huge number of private schools, colleges and universities to continue in English medium.
The Andhra Pradesh model of school education is the only option to provide quality and equal medium education to all children in schools. Since there is no scope to abolish private sector education where only the rich can study, bringing all schools to a level playing field is the only way out.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist. He is the author of From Shepherd Boy to An Intellectual-My Memoirs.
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