The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The story of English in communist West Bengal is a long and sad one. It is one of ignorant dogmatism, of blunders in policymaking cussedly defended and prolonged. A group of politicians, more or less clueless about education, has ruined ó systematically, self-righteously, and over a shockingly long period ó the prospects of generations of students by experimenting with language-teaching in government-sponsored schools. Juggling irresponsibly with the promotion of Bengali and the demotion of English has characterized the Left Frontís control over primary education in the state. Mr Jyoti Basu has now added another non-chapter to this fruitless history. He has summarily declared to his comrades that English should be reintroduced from class I without any more fuss. This is, as most educationists in Bengal are tired of saying, a very sensible idea. But the most baffling thing about the statement, and with the manner in which it was suddenly dropped at a meeting, is why Mr Basu suddenly had such a revolutionary aperçu after decades of ineffectual deliberation.

Mr Basu, as chief minister of West Bengal, had repeatedly surrendered to the general will of his party regarding the teaching of English. So from 1980 to the present day, an endless line of commissions and committees and experts has tinkered with language-teaching, providing advice, only to be ignored when it was contrary to the partyís dogmas. The laconically expressed common sense which Mr Basu has come up with now seems to have been singularly absent in dealing with that procrastination. Even now, the new impetus given by his words to the early introduction of English has been mired in the delays and dissensions within the front and in its education cell. The governmentís slow and complicated ruminations over the disastrous recommendations of the Ranjugopal Mukherjee committee might therefore continue in spite of Mr Basuís apparent impatience. The damaging hopelessness of the whole affair will therefore endure. Under Mr Basuís chief ministership, West Bengal has produced a literate population deeply divided along linguistic lines, fostering every kind of inequality and disadvantage for those who have been the victims of the governmentís benighted language policies. His successor has also never quite managed to rise above this stranglehold of party ideology to push through effective policies, in spite of having made the right sort of noises from time to time. It is therefore difficult to expect anything different to emerge from this latest prod in the right direction.

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