The irony is too good to be tragic. Even those handpicked to teach primary English to the English teachers in West Bengal’s government schools do not know enough English to train the teachers. And this verdict has been passed by the British English-language expert who had been brought over through the British Council to evaluate them. History seems to have turned full circle in Bengal, in spite of the Left Front doing its best to undo the linguistic wrongs of the raj. For more than two decades, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has conducted a series of disastrous experiments with English teaching in the state’s primary schools. The introduction of English had been pushed back to class VI from class I, and then pushed backwards and forwards in consultation with a series of committees and commissions. The net result has been generations of disaffected young people struggling for professional advancement with the severe disadvantage of not having proper English. But now that Bengal wants investors and Mr Jyoti Basu has suddenly woken up to the importance of English-teaching from the earliest primary level, a massively complicated three-tier plan has been chalked up to train English teachers for the schools.
This plan involves a phased employment of multi-level “resource persons” in the districts who will teach the teachers. The 75 people who were chosen for the British Council workshop were the pick of these resorce persons. But most of them do not have enough spoken English to conduct classes. The magnitude of the problem becomes clear when one remembers that there are about 1,60,000 teachers who are going to be part of this training programme. Teaching poor English in Bengali by teachers never trained to teach a language to very young pupils is hardly the ideal damage control exercise. The extent of damage done to the human infrastructure of primary education by the cluelessness and dogmatism of the government is therefore making itself felt at every stage of initiating radical changes in the system.