English as Medium on Instruction in Assam

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It is also alleged that English shouldn't be MOI for science and mathematics in government schools of Assam as the schools lack proper infrastructure for the same.
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By Prasun Goswami

Assam Government has recently passed a decision to dissolve social science as a subject from the curriculum of secondary school education and rather introduce history and geography as separate subjects. It has also decided to implement English as the medium of instruction for teaching science and math from Class 3rd till 12th. The decision in imparting science and mathematics subjects in English came after Amit Shah had announced on April 8th that Hindi should be spoken across the country rather than English.

Various regional and left-leaning student organizations have registered sharp criticisms to this move of the state. Removal of the subject of social sciences from the curriculum has been termed to be a regressive step as students will not get chances to understand the federal and democratic structure of the state upon removal of the political science section.

The criticisms drawn towards the step of introducing English as the medium of instruction in science and math for children across the state can be assorted into two compartments. The regional parties are terming this step to be undermining the relevance of the Assamese language and further wrecking the ‘Axomiya Culture’. The left-leaning organizations and intellectuals have termed this step to undermine the relevance of using mother tongues in teaching children and further a step toward privatization.

While the first step of dissolving social science as a subject is a regressive step and should be opposed under any circumstance, a dialogue on the second step should be conducted among the opposing organizations and intellectuals.

As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 70.3% of children in the country attend government schools. The percentage has seen a dramatic rise after the pandemic which can be attributed to the rise in poverty and economic distress in this tenure as mostly children from the downtrodden sections attend government schools.

Children from the marginalized Tribal and Dalit sections have been mostly attending government schools and availing the opportunity to study science and math in English will help to ensure social justice for them. As per a report published by the MHRD in 2018, only 2.27% of tribal are presently serving as faculties in central universities of India. This shows the inequity of access to quality education for the marginalized.

Under such circumstances why should children from marginalized backgrounds not study science and math in English and rather bear the baggage of up keeping the ‘Axomiya Culture’ and the relevance of usage of mother tongue as is alleged by the opposing organizations? All this while the elite private schools schooling children from privileged caste-class backgrounds will be continuing English as their medium of instruction.

Mother tongue as Medium of instruction

Researches and policies suggest that the primary classes should be conducted in the home languages of children so that they can effectively acquire Foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) skills. Once FLN skills are acquired, second or third Language acquisition is not that tough and subjects can be taught in those languages.

India is struggling with FLN skills for all children for a long time. Recently a mission called NIPUN Bharat has been launched to accomplish building FLN skills in children across the country in a mission mode. Once the FLN skills are built, the medium of instruction in a few subjects can be switched to a second or third Language. NEP 2020 emphasizes accomplishing building FLN skills in children by class 2nd and NIPUN Bharat extends it to class 3 owing to the learning gap induced by the pandemic.

As per Census 2011, Assam has more than 200 languages and the government schools in Assam have 9 languages as their medium of instruction (Assamese, Bodo, Bengali, Garo, Manipuri, Nepali, Hmar, Karbi, English, and Hindi). The enormous language diversity and a history of violent language-related clashes in the state make the issue of imparting FLN skills in the mother tongue to all children in the complex.

A way out of this problem can be switching towards Multi-Lingual Education where respective home languages of children are used as a step to impart FLN skills and this will help them learn other subjects in their language 2 or 3. NIPUN Bharat Mission recommends mapping of home languages in every state and this exercise will help states to map the languages and design multi-lingual pedagogies to impart FLN skills to children customized as per their geographies. A robust plan is made to implement the pedagogies to achieve the target of building FLN skills in children by the time they reach Class 3rd.

Teaching a population of children speaking more than 200 languages in 9 languages at the government schools of Assam is anyway not serving the purpose of primary education in their mother tongue. As per the report of NITI Ayog, Assam had registered a drop out of 33%, the highest in the country in 2019. ASER 2019 report says that children in higher classes are unable to read a text prescribed for the initial classes.

After undertaking a proper Multi-Lingual approach as suggested by the policies to build the FKLN Skills, children can be taught a few subjects in other languages. There are tried and tested pedagogies to facilitate knowledge construction in science and math in languages other than children’s home languages.

How capable are teachers?

Introducing English as the medium of instruction for teaching science and math can pose challenges to the teachers initially but with proper hand holding and programs for effective in-service teachers’ capacity enhancement, teachers can overcome their challenges. There are a lot of teachers across the country who come from humanities backgrounds but are teaching science and mathematics in middle schools. A lot of teachers from different backgrounds are teaching English. Keeping all these challenges in mind, a framework for the curriculum of TPD has been designed by National Council for Teachers Education and implemented.

English is a link language in Indian elite circles and presently only rich kids having caste-class privilege are having that access. Moreover, the literature available is mostly in English. Why deny children from downtrodden backgrounds this privilege?

Conclusion

The students’ bodies and the individuals registering their protests against this move should brainstorm on how the move can be shaped into one ensuring social justice for all. This move is regressive and is trying to deepen the education divide as was in England during the Industrial Revolution. Though it is not practically viable to design textbooks for the state of Assam in all the 200 languages, multi-lingual techniques need to be accepted to design pedagogies helping children to acquire FLN skills by the time they reach class 3rd. English can be introduced as the medium of instruction for a few subjects while implementing pedagogies to facilitate knowledge construction in children in an experiential way. Studying mathematical and scientific concepts in science will instill confidence in them and help them further to move towards attaining social justice. This is in alignment with the educational policies (RTE, NCF 2005, NEP 2020, and NIPUN Bharat) and under no way undermining the constitutional rights guaranteed to all children in India under Articles 21 and 350A.

It is also alleged that English shouldn’t be MOI for science and mathematics in government schools of Assam as the schools lack proper infrastructure for the same.

Going by this argument, science subject should be abolished from the government schools as they lack proper laboratory facilities required for science education.

Let’s wait until 6% GDP is devoted to education for reforms and until then let the elite private schools flourish and add more members to the elite English speaking progressive circles so that the caste-class privileged can continue representing the mass struggles of downtrodden at international platforms.

The writer is an educationist and rights activist

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are completely personal views of the writer and TIME8.in doesn’t endorse any of them

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