The past, by definition, cannot be reopened and revised. But errors made in the past can be rectified so that their disastrous consequences are not carried over into the future. The Left Front, which once made the mistake of removing English from the school syllabus in the lower classes in West Bengal, is now taking corrective measures. Five leading government-aided schools — Hindu School, Bethune School, Ballygunge Government School, BD Government School and Barasat Government School — have been given the permission to open sections where the medium of instruction will be English. This is in many ways a giant step since it entails not only the teaching of English but also the teaching of other subjects in English. It is very clear that the pressures of a changing world have forced the leftists to radically change their position. It has been obvious to most observers that schools like Hindu School and Ballygunge Government School, known at one time to be the best in Calcutta in terms of academic performance and teaching standards, were not drawing the best students whose parents were choosing English-medium schools. The Left Front government has now taken the position that if these schools have the “required infrastructure” they are free to open English-medium sections.
The operative — and dangerous — words here are “required infrastructure”. Who determines what is the required infrastructure? More important, what constitutes the required infrastructure? There are no obvious answers to these questions. One essential requirement — and this can be beyond dispute — is the availability of competent teachers capable of teaching in English. The sad and unfortunate part of the school education system in West Bengal after three decades of Left rule is the absence of competent and committed schoolteachers. This has little or nothing to do with knowledge or fluency in English. Jobs in government-aided and government-run schools have become a source of extending political patronage. Loyalty or a posture of loyalty gets privilege over merit. This is perhaps the most significant transformation that has taken place in the world of school education. There is scope for a great deal of scepticism whether English sections in government schools will meet the required standards of teaching. The reasons for the non-availability of good teachers lie in the past, and this may well be a mistake difficult to correct.