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Why Jagan’s decision to kill Telugu-medium schools needs a re-think

There is a myth about English in India that the government, in the states as well as the Centre, promotes Indian languages, but “people want English” and hence the government is forced to cater to this demand. There is also the belief that the “world is using English” and promoting English-medium education will help India get “developed”.

A recent decision by the Andhra Pradesh government led by Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy to convert all government schools to English medium uses these myths to essentially kill Telugu off as a language. 

Other States have taken similar decisions with far-reaching negative consequences for Indian civilisation and India’s progress and development. We must demand access and equal treatment for India’s languages from the states that have systematically promoted English to destroy Indian languages and culture.

The decision to switch to English-medium over mother tongue education has no scientific basis. Research consistently shows that children learn best in their mother tongue and their brains develop better. 

Research conducted by the Indian School of Business specifically compared Telugu-medium students with those studying in English-medium in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. They found that Telugu-medium students performed “significantly better” in math and science than English-medium students, despite the fact that the English-medium students often came from a more affluent background. 

Since math scores are a good proxy for cognitive development, essentially students educated in Telugu-medium had better brain development than those who study in English-medium. This is consistent with research from across the world where mother tongue education leads to better outcomes. The Andhra Pradesh govt’s step is regressive and colonial, not backed by science.

Not only is it unscientific to force English-medium, Indian language education is particularly well-suited to the needs of the future. 

Prof K Gopinath of the Indian Institute of Science studied Telugu and later did his PhD from Stanford in Computer Science. In review comments about my book, he writes: “One of the highlights of my childhood education was discovering the system of chhandas in Telugu poetry, which has absorbed many of these ideas from Sanskrit, and has associated with it many computational aspects such as binary notation, use of error codes and even investigated, for possibly the first time, an algebraic structure such as a de Bruin sequence. The current education system seems to have taken these out of current syllabus to the impoverishment of Indian minds.”

Thus not only is it better for children to study in their mother tongue, Indian languages like Telugu are highly suited for brain development of children for the technologies of the future. As computing, artificial intelligence and science develop even further we need children with highly-developed intelligence, not English. China today has become a leader in Artificial Intelligence research where all primary education, and most of higher education, is in Chinese.

Children with better developed brains, not English, is the need for the future. With a solid grounding in mother-tongue-medium education, children can learn other languages later as needed. In fact, with increasing automatic machine translation, many languages can prosper without the need for people to be forced to anyone common language. 

Countries around the world - Japan, China, South Korea, France, Germany and others — are flourishing economically and technologically due to English but by providing education to the highest level in the mother tongue.

Why then is there a mad rush to English in India? This has been created not because “the world is using English.” It isn’t. Rather it has happened due to successive Indian government policies that have promoted and forced English over Indian languages. The government funds and promotes English-only Institutes such as IITs, AIIMS and IIMS for professional education. 

It forces that engineering and medicine only be taught in English. The government mandates that the Supreme Court, and most High Courts, including that in Andhra Pradesh, operate only in English, a throwback to the British India act of 1935. Most competitive exams and job opportunities are created by the government in English. 

It is bad government policy, not some “global imperative” which has created the demand for English in India. Even so, English-medium primary education is a destructive way to service that demand. Children in rural backgrounds, with no English environment suffer disproportionately from English. English-medium does not help in this, rather they will learn nothing in an alien language and sit uncomprehending in class, or be forced to drop out.

Imagine if tomorrow all the English-educated people in India were told their children must learn in Chinese-medium in school. The move to English-medium is a large-scale plan for completely destroying Indian talent and human resources.

What is the alternative? It is very clear. India has very large linguistic populations, each larger than a European country. The government must provide technical and professional education in all languages of the 8th schedule of the Constitution. It must mandate that all High Courts operate in the state languages and the Central Government must be accessible to all citizens in the language of their choice. This is exactly how the European union operates.

With machine translation, coupled with a clear strategy and significant government investment, this is not difficult to implement. 

This will enable Indian languages to prosper and remove the mad rush to English. The path that the Andhra government is choosing will destroy talent and brains which will lead to both economic ruin and cultural poverty. English obsession is a story of the past.

Instead, we need to move with the future, which is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, technology-enabled world.

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