The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kanti clears English air

Calcutta, Jan. 3: Alarmed at the controversy triggered by a remark of the head of a school education revamp committee, the government today clarified that it has no plans to alter the present arrangement of teaching English informally from Class II and formally from Class III.

School education minister Kanti Biswas said the Ranju Gopal Mukherjee committee’s view that English could be best learnt if taught from Class V was its “personal opinion” and had no bearing on the government’s policy on the issue.

Three days after the presentation of the 125-page report by the 13 member-committee headed by Mukherjee, the government tried to end the controversy generated by Mukherjee’s observation on teaching English from Class V.

“It is his personal opinion, I repeat, personal opinion. I want to clarify that the committee has made no suggestion on the teaching of English in its report. Neither does the report mention any particular stage from which the government should begin teaching English,” said Biswas.

Officials attributed today’s disclaimer from the education minister on the issue of teaching English from Class V to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s annoyance about the entire episode.

Apparently, the observation on English being best learnt when taught from Class V has created confusion in rural Bengal, where the CPM is preparing to fight a crucial panchayat election in May. The party’s detractors have already begun to put the issue on their agenda.

Biswas charged a section of the media with distorting Mukherjee’s personal opinion as official confirmation of the new thinking in the government on the issue that has pricked it since English was pulled out of the primary school syllabi in 1982.

The Telegraph was first to report that the government was thinking in terms of introducing children to the language from Class I — a demand that finds many takers within and outside the government. The chief minister, too, has been openly pushing for it.

Biswas, however, said his government has decided to follow the recommendations of the one-man Pabitra Sarkar committee.

In a report submitted to the government in 1998, Sarkar had suggested that the system of formal teaching of English from Class III be continued till 2004.

Sarkar had further suggested that a survey should be conducted in 2004 to examine whether the subject could be taught formally in a lower class.

“As of now, our stand is to follow Sarkar’s recommendation to continue the existing system till 2004,” Biswas said.

Biswas also said the government was considering making it mandatory for non-Bengali students to learn Bengali or Nepali as a third language in the state.

Several teachers’ lobbies — both Left and non-Left — said they would launch agitations if the government showed signs of accepting the Mukherjee committee’s “personal opinion” on teaching English from Class V.

The lobbies affiliated to the CPI and the Forward Bloc criticised the committee for skipping the procedure of consulting them.

“We fail to understand how Ranju Gopal Mukherjee has come up with the proposal to start English teaching from Class V at this stage. People of Bengal have repeatedly made it clear to the government that English should be taught from Class I”, said Sudhangshu Pal, a leader of the CPI controlled teachers’ association.

The CPI, FB as well as the SUCI-controlled Bengal Primary Teachers Association (BPTA) – which had been able to create most pressure on the ruling CPM government to bring back English teaching from class III in 1998, held meetings today.

Pal and his counterpart in other organisations also expressed concern over the manner the committee avoided taking their views when they prepared the report.


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