My second week here in India now and I’m rapidly learning about the complexities of language education policy and practice in this vast country.
Here are some numbers first – just to give you an idea of the challenges of scale! A population of approximately 1.27 billion, 200 million of which are in the school grades 1-8 (age 6-14 years) – so, perhaps its not so surprising that school attendance for this age group only became compulsory in 2010 and attendance is still not brilliant. Much of the education budget has so far been focused on providing an adequate infrastructure (buildings, etc.). Gradually though, each of the 29 states is now turning its attention towards consolidating the quality of learning provision.
As for languages – over 700 languages are spoken in the various regions of the country. In an effort to ensure an effective start to the primary years of schooling the national policy currently recommends that all children should be taught in the official state language (for grades 1-5, or 1-6 in some states). Although both educationalists and linguists would both agree that children are much more likely to succeed in education if they are taught in a language they already know (particularly in the early phases of education) parents seem to be not so happy with this policy. National reports show a rapid increase in the popularity of private schools which claim to offer an education in English. Today, English medium schools amount to 30% of the total school provision – and rising.
I was lucky enough to interview the co-director of schooling for the state of Tamil Nadu on Saturday morning (the only day when she could rely on not being interrupted by meetings, etc!). She outlined the state policy which aims to try and ensure equal opportunities for all children by providing quality education within the government (state) schools. For Tamil Nadu, they believe that allowing government schools to teach all subjects in English (English-medium) will encourage parents to send their children to the government schools, thus maintaining quality for all, with no extra fees to pay. The challenge now is to up-skill 200, 000 teachers, 60, 000 of whom teach in grades 1-5 (the primary sector is what I’m particularly interested in). Their aim is to develop teachers’ expertise in offering a learner-centred curriculum, in English, moving away from the teacher-centred, transmission mode of delivery that has been part of the education tradition here. It’s early days yet, but apparently things are beginning to happen in schools. Later this week I’ll let you know my first impressions during my school visits! For now though, I’ll leave you with a photo of the Bay of Bengal at 6 am – the best time of day – before the temperature becomes so sticky that aircon is a necessity!