The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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English in Class I with Bengali baggage

Calcutta, Jan. 9: It is official. English will be taught in Class I after 24 years from the session beginning this May.

Studying Bengali will be compulsory till Class VIII, school education minister Kanti Biswas today said after announcing the reintroduction of English.

“We’ve got all enabling factors like trained teachers and books to teach English in Class I in place,” said Biswas.

The minister today met several teachers’ lobbies, including the CPM-dominated All Bengal Teachers’ Association, at his Salt Lake office. The association had at one point opposed the move to bring back English to Class I.

In making the announcement, the government set aside the recommendation of the Ranjugopal Mukherjee committee that advocated abolition of English teaching at the primary level.

As The Telegraph first reported in December, the government accorded an exalted status to Bengali, primarily to rein in the influential pro-Bengali lobby within the CPM.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas, known as the party’s education czar, said: “I have no comment to offer on an issue that concerns academics. I am no academic.”

Bengal’s communists, under former chief minister Jyoti Basu, had shut English out of the primary level in 1980, three years after they came to power. The move was said to be aimed at bringing down the rate of school dropouts in rural areas, which experts in the party had ascribed to a fright of the language. English would then be taught from Class V.

However, despite being under pressure from anti-English hardliners in the party, the Basu government realised that the decision had cost the Left Front in terms of votes.

Before his retirement in 2001, Basu ensured the return of English to Class II, following the recommendations of the Pabitra Sarkar Committee.

Biswas today said about Rs 1 crore would be spent on bringing English back to Class I. A 24-page textbook is being printed. Nearly 20 lakh children get enrolled in primary schools in the state every year.

“We are also conducting special training for teachers who will help and guide other English teachers at the primary level. Every school will get one specially trained English teacher,” said Biswas.

The minister also announced the introduction of sex education from Class VIII and a slash in school holidays.

The government is now preparing the syllabus and training teachers for sex education.

Biswas added: “Teachers now enjoy 80 holidays in a calendar year. We have decided to reduce the number of holidays to 65 in a year, except Sundays and government holidays.”

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