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English return with Bengali dose

Calcutta, Dec. 29: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government is expected to announce in January the teaching of English from Class I along with compulsory learning of Bengali for children of all linguistic groups up to Class VIII.

Education officials said the new language policy, greenlighted two weeks ago by the Left Front in tune with the government’s recommendation, would come into effect from the 2004 academic session in nearly 65,000 primary and secondary schools affiliated to school boards of Bengal.

Compulsory learning of Bengali will touch a vast number of children whose mother tongues are Hindi, Oriya, Gujarati and other languages. This is the first time since the introduction of the Madhyamik course in 1974 that the learning of Bengali has been made compulsory for children of non-Bengali linguistic groups.

Till last year, a non-Bengali speaking child studying in a school affiliated to the state secondary board could choose a third language from a group of 16 languages.

“We intend to ensure that every child in any of the 12,000 institutions affiliated to our board gets to learn Bengali at least till Class VIII,” said S. Sahana, deputy secretary, academic, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.

Apparently, the decision making Bengali a must for every schoolgoing child — an issue that finds a favourable mention in the voluminous report of the Ranjugopal Mukherjee committee on revamp of school education — has been taken to allow the anti-English lobby in the CPM and the Front a sense of victory.

“We have completed several rounds of discussion on introduction of a balanced language policy. We should be in a position to unveil the policy within the first week of January,” Kanti Biswas, the state school education minister, said.

By a reliable estimate, once the policy gets under way, English will have begun to be taught from June in Class I of about 52,000 primary schools, affiliated to the primary board. Similarly, Bengali will now become the obligatory third language for about 100,000 children of other linguistic groups.

With the two major issues relating to the language policy, the government is also expected to announce how many of the recommendations of the Mukherjee committee it is going to accept.

The announcement on English assumes urgency as the recommendation of the Pabitra Sarkar committee on the basis of which the existing system is practised will expire in May 2004.

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