The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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English divide runs deep in colleges

Calcutta, Sept. 5: An invisible but all too evident barrier caused by the cascading effects of the language policy followed in Bengal’s schools till the recent past has sprung up inside classrooms, refusing to spare even the best institutions.

From Presidency College to Jadavpur University, from Goenka college to Calcutta medical college, the fresh batch of the state’s best students is facing a problem that can be traced back to the only-Bengali policy followed in primary classes till a couple of years ago, say teachers.

Classes have just begun but Presidency teachers say the English-language barrier is already making its presence felt. “Students who cannot speak English or have difficulty in following the lectures (in English) usually stay together,” a senior teacher said.

“Constant interaction reveals that what we usually dismiss as ‘shyness’ in someone from a village school stems actually from the language problem,” she added.

“This is the biggest problem for many freshers,” physics teacher Pradip Datta said. “Failing to follow the lectures and being too shy to ask questions inside the classroom, they gradually fall back academically.”

Questions are — almost always — asked outside the classroom. “Requests to use Bengali terms have already started coming,” Datta said. “But how can I explain mechanics in Bengali'”

Teachers of medicine, engineering or business law, which use specialised terms and jargon, say they, too, suffer with their students. “We have to explain many lessons in Bengali for those straight from village schools,” a medical college teacher said.

With the condensation of the first-MBBS course from 18 months to 12, completing the syllabus has become difficult. “Explaining medical terms in Bengali is time-consuming and we just (about) manage to finish everything,” he added.

Saurabh Datta, an NRS medical college intern, admitted he had felt “tongue-tied” as a fresher. “As a first-year student, I always routed my questions in class through my ‘convent-educated’ classmates,” he said. “I have overcome this problem but it has taken a lot of doing over the past five years.”

Goenka college, the premier government institution for commerce students, has a section of students from the districts. “Only last week, I was waylaid by some second-year students who said they could not follow some business-law terms,” teacher Benoy Bhushan Chakraborty said.

“They saw my point when I told them there could not be any Bengali translation. But their helplessness saddened me,” he added. “If some of the best students face this problem, think how the less bright are doing.”

Jadavpur University, where most Joint Entrance Examination toppers in engineering enrol, is not safe from the problem either. “The first year is confusing for both students and teachers,” mechanical engineering teacher Tarun Naskar said.

For students, the confusion manifests in the repeated requests of “Sir/Madam, could you please repeat what you said'”

“But we, too, come across many answer scripts we cannot follow. Students often mean something but write something totally different as minor changes in terms can change meanings,” Naskar said.

Jadavpur has its way of doing away with the problem: a series of mock lectures, audio-visual presentations by students and group discussions in the final two semesters.

But teachers say it becomes all too evident in these classes that four years of city life and rubbing shoulders with students from English-medium schools cannot solve the problem.

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