The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strains of Promodebabu in school English policy

Yet another committee on school education has failed to come clean on restoring the teaching of English to Class I. Worse, its suggestion that the language be taught at the primary school level makes little sense because it is now taught from Class III . The only option before the Ranju Gopal Mukherjee committee, one thought, was to take the issue to its logical conclusion by recommending English back to Class I.

Banished from the primary curriculum in 1982 and restored to, first, Class V and then Class III, the next step should logically have been Class I. That the Mukherjee committee didn’t do the obvious suggests that some last vestiges of the late Promode Dasgupta’s legacy oddly survive in a party that he would have barely recognised.

Growing up as proteges of the late Promode Dasgupta, most of today’s top CPM leaders, including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and state secretary Anil Biswas, have gradually disinherited most of their mentor’s legacy.

Be it in the affairs of the party or policies of the Left Front government, Dasgupta’s hardline approaches have long been discarded in favour of realism, thanks to Jyoti Basu’s ability to push moderation as policy. In industry, health, culture and now agriculture, most of the changes that the Marxists have come to accept are a far cry from Dasgupta’s Stalinist days.

But even Basu didn’t quite succeed in exorcising the Dasgupta boys of his “anti-elitist” line on education. Nothing reflects this better than the continuing confusion in the CPM’s language policy in general and the teaching of English in particular.

Not that the party remains bound to the Dasgupta days even on education. Private entrepreneurs are entering school and college education on an unprecedented scale. It is not just the numbers that are new. The real difference is to be seen in Bhattacharjee’s call for a return to excellence , which is a complete turnaround on what the Dasgupta line had made of education.

Dasgupta offered two arguments for dropping English from the primary school syllabi. The supposedly academic argument was that a foreign language was best taught at a later stage. The burden of English was also cited as one of the factors behind a high drop-out rate among primary students. An extension of the same argument proclaimed that the mother tongue was the best medium of instruction at all levels.

But Dasgupta never even tried to conceal his real argument, which was clearly political.

English, he argued, was an instrument of elitism in education and of the educated class’s domination in society. He left no one in doubt that he had nothing but contempt for elitist education and the supposed role of English in it. The battle against English, to him, was part of the class struggle.

The party has walked a long way from there. Barring oddballs like school education minister Kanti Biswas, most CPM)leaders now admit that all the arguments for dropping English from the primary curriculum had proved spurious. The absence of English in the curriculum not only forced students away from government schools, wherever they had a choice, but also led to the declining standards of their English when they learnt it at a later stage.

There is no doubt, however, that the party will no longer stand in his way when Bhattacharjee decides to restore English to Class I. Everything suggests that this is now only a matter of time. There is already a climate of opinion in favour of it among all sections of the society and neither the CPM nor Bhattacharjee can afford to delay the inevitable for long.

The chief minister wants to raise a new class of professionals to run or work in IT and other new-age enterprises and talks of the academic excellence necessary to produce this new breed. It cannot be anyone’s argument that restoring the teaching of English to Class I will necessarily ensure quality education. But it will be one more signal for the Left’s new promise to rid education of oldtime political rhetoric.

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