Engr K Vijayachandran FIE

Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) claims itself to be a National Board, committed to Equity and Excellence in School Education (1). However, its primary aim appears to be promotion of English as the medium of education in the country.

In 1962 there were only 309 schools under its care, mostly inherited from the colonial era. Today, there are nearly 9000 schools under CBSE system, including 141 schools in foreign countries, 897 Kendriya Vidyalayas, 1761 Government Schools, 5827 independent schools, 480 Jawahar Novodaya Vidyalayas and 14 Central Tibetan Schools run for the Dalai Lama. CBSE with the vast resources at its command and support for the English medium virtually dominates the schooling system and its management in the country (2).

Before the CBSE drive started in early sixties, share of English medium enrollment in Kerala schools was negligible: It reached half percent level in 1971 and ever since the percentage was doubling up every ten years. In the last academic year, nearly ten percent of students in Kerala went to English medium schools (3). True, this is part of a national pattern. But, impact of this continuing shift towards English medium education has never been evaluated and understood at the regional or national level. (4)

Even after six decades of independence English dominates Indian administration: It is the medium of higher learning in Indian universities and the language of Indian science and technology. Major contributor to exclusive development, in the past, was the language policy, practiced by Indian State. Discussions on inclusive development make little sense, outside the frame of our language policies.

Look at our agrarian sector: Literature on our crops, soil or climate is simply not available in the languages spoken by our farmers and farm workers, numbering around 180 million: Kerala is the land of coconuts, but there is no scientific literature in Malayalam dealing with the tree, its cultivation, products and related technologies. Agricultural universities of India and ICAR institutions speak only English, have little contact with our farming communities and mostly work for publishing papers in foreign journals.

We have around 45 million industrial workers, including the ten million in organized sector: spinners, weavers, welders, blacksmiths, fitters, electricians, plant operators, telephone workers, auto drivers, motor mechanics etc. They would love to read technical literature on their trades, in their mother tongues; for improving skills, efficiency and quality. That sort of literature, including safety manuals, hardly exists in Indian languages.

We have a large army of construction workers: masons, bricklayers, bar-benders, form workers, painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, lift and crane operators, loading and unloading workers, and then the so called attimari or head load workers. Nobody knows, from where they come, how they get trained, and where they disappear: They hardly get any formal training in their trades, though their share in GDP continues to expand, every year.

Specifications and standards for public works are prepared and published in English. If published in local languages, they could impart technical knowledge to millions of construction workers, contractors and engineering students, and bring in transparency in our public works. Indian Standards prepared by BIS, at huge cost to public exchequer, will help in educating workers and using their creativity, if published in local languages.

In the health sector, doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff learn their trade only in English. Medical prescriptions and instructions are made out only in English. Indian languages stand virtually banned by the ICMR and Indian medical profession. Even Ayurveda has turned English, despite its claims on holy origin. Ayurveda is learned and taught in English, nowadays, though the original texts were written in Indian languages.

Best way to develop the capabilities of our languages is to start using them for learning and teaching science and technology. This will, not only galvanize the learning process but also lead to the creation of a vibrant indigenous S&T. This, in turn will help the working people to participate in technological and scientific innovations**. This is the lesson to learn from developed countries, and also developing nations like Korea, Vietnam or China.

English speaking intelligentsia is a key constituent of our elite classes that rule our country. Language policy, now practiced by Indian state, immensely suits their selfish interests: First, it helps them to sustain their hegemony over the working people, as in the good old days of Brahmin domination, when Sanskrit was the veda bhasha and deva bhasha and holding the same status as Latin in medieval Europe. And secondly, it helps them to migrate to the West, and extract global prices for their labor power.

This microscopic section of our society insists that knowledge in general and S&T in particular has to be taught and learned only in an imperial language, if the country is to benefit from modern technologies. Such hypotheses by the elite classes of Europe were demolished by the industrial revolution and Latin replaced by Portuguese, Spanish, English, French, Russian or German. And, the socialist revolutions, that followed the two global wars, led to an even bigger upheavals in the language policies of nations-states and nationalities.

Our language policy is blocking the creativity of a billion people: Stagnation and exclusive growth are the inevitable results, as evidenced by our poor performance in innovations and inventions. Deliberations on inclusive development, outside the framework of national language policy, are typical of the hypocrisy practiced by our English speaking intelligentsia. And, CBSE as a national board patronized by our elite classes, has created an impression that country has already created an excellent secondary school system with equity that need to be sustained and further expanded.

1. See webpage:
2. CBSE has grown into a massive bureaucratic organization. Text books are produced in English and Hindi and question papers follow the same pattern giving a distinct advantage to examinations to Hindi speaking populations. CBSE’s claim on equity and excellence make little sense in the Indian context.
3. Total school enrollment in Kerala was around 40 Lakh in 1961 and it steadily increased and peaked to around 59.1 Lakh by 1991. Then there was a decline thanks to demographic transition and by 2013 it was only 38.5 Lakhs. Government school enrollment nearly halved, private aided school enrollment came down by one third and unaided synonymous with with English medium reached the all time high of 3.65 Lakh. This year, the much celebrated new enrollment was hardly 3.25 lakhs, some two lakhs less than two decades ago. Kerala could have gone back to the healthy and more wholesome neighborhood schooling that existed in the good old days. Due to the unhealthy growth of the English medium sector the state could not take any economic advantage of the demographic transition and improve the quality of education.  The state could plan for it in the coming years with the help of local governments, provided it could resist the CBSE culture and move away from the English medium mania.
4. Continued domination of English as medium of instruction as the language for higher learning and as official language is a major disincentive for inclusive development. See pages 131-134 of the book recently published by the author: Perestroika Glasnost and Socialism ISBN 978-1-4828-1353-1.