The story of English in West Bengal’s government schools is a sad one. Three decades ago the government, then led by a fluently English-speaking chief minister, had famously ruled out the learning of English from a greater portion of primary education in its schools. This produced generations of students — and teachers — that were radically disadvantaged in every sphere of professional and pedagogic life, creating different kinds of crippling inequality, the effects of which are being felt in multiple, largely irremediable, ways. Now, the Trinamul Congress government has decided to have a go at rectifying this by introducing an English-medium section from Class I of one government school in each district. This looks like an experimental move, and depending on the success of this initial stage of the re-introduction of English, the facility will be extended to more, and then all, government schools.
This is a good idea that should bring hope to ordinary parents who cannot afford to send their children to elite English-medium schools, but have woken up, nevertheless, to how essential the English language has become to make any sort of headway at home or in the world. But, in actual terms, given the number of students and the economic condition of most of these schools, building up the right sort of human infrastructure for English-medium education could remain a paralysing problem. To create such facilities without adequate quality control would be nothing but a waste of time and resources. Solid planning, administration and political will are necessary to ensure that teachers are properly trained to teach both English and other subjects in English, and proper textbooks are made available to the students. This move should not become one of political one-upmanship by the current government, made without much thought, planning and action.