The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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English set for full return

Calcutta, Dec. 30: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government has started taking steps to reintroduce the study of English in Class I, nearly 24 years after its abolition, ahead of a report to be submitted tomorrow by a high-power committee set up to recommend ways to revamp the school education system.

Senior education officials said today that the government has started the exercise after receiving the go-ahead from the CPM — the driving force behind the move — and on the strength of recommendations of various lobbies.

As The Telegraph had reported soon after Bhattacharjee took over, the exercise is a result of his efforts to bring back English at the primary level after rolling back resistance to the move from a section of the party. A few months ago, at a function in a girls’ school in south Calcutta, the chief minister had made a passionate plea for the study of English from Class 1.

One of the two major school education revamp panels, headed by academic Ranjugopal Mukherjee, is expected to give the go-ahead to the study of English from Class I. The other committee, set up to ensure parity between the syllabi of Madhyamik and Higher Secondary examinations and those of other all-India boards, has already recommended early introduction to the language.

“The Mukherjee committee is expected to give a detailed view on the issue, on the basis of which the government will fully work out its approach. However, we have an idea about what is going to happen,” said an official.

Another trigger for the government’s move is global consultants McKinsey’s emphasis on the importance of English in ushering an IT revolution. Coupled with this are the recommendations of the Pabitra Sarkar committee, which had brought English back to Class III in 1999 with the proviso that a review be done before considering reintroducing the language in Class I in 2004.

“If the 2004 deadline set by the Pabitra Sarkar committee is taken into consideration, there is little time for a rethink on reintroducing formal teaching of English in a class lower than Class III,” said Jyotiprokash Ghosh, president of the West Bengal Board of Primary Education.

“As far as we are concerned, reintroduction of the subject in Class I entirely depends on the government. We will act only when there is a direct order from them. But it must be underscored that there is a growing demand for studying the language in Class I.”

A meeting will be held soon after the Mukherjee committee report is submitted, to compare the recommendations of the two panels on the issue, the sources said. They added that a string of workshops and seminars would be organised to mobilise popular opinion on this count.

In Bhattacharjee’s Bengal, the early study of English has assumed large socio-political connotations, more so in the wake of McKinsey’s report on the imperatives of industrialisation of the state, highlighting the need for equipping the youth with greater proficiency in the language.

Historically, the debate on studying English at the primary level in thousands of state run-schools has been an emotive political issue. Soon after coming to office in 1977, under the influence of Pramode Dasgupta, the CPM-led Left Front had abolished the teaching of English at the primary level. This was done, as part of its policy of inclusivism, to encourage education in mother tongues and bring the masses into educational institutions.

According to sources, the CPM, which is reinventing itself in tune with the changing times, has decided to give a serious thought to the issue of studying English in Class I after coming under pressure from parents across Bengal.

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