Bengali nanny state
Concern after language diktat
- Published 17.05.17
May 16: Bengal had once infamously banned English from primary school to promote Bengali. Now, it has made Bengali compulsory for all students from Classes I to X.
"One of the three languages (taught in school) would have to be Bengali," Mamata Banerjee wrote in a Facebook post today. "The two other (language) choices are completely dependent on what the student chooses."
The Left had abolished English from Classes I to VI in 1982. Mamata has now followed in the footsteps of states like Karnataka and Punjab and made the dominant vernacular language compulsory.
While some teachers were concerned about the additional burden on students, others feared that the decision would shut the state's doors on students from outside.
The principal of a reputable Calcutta school said: "As it is there is hardly any industry left in Bengal and most students choose to leave the state after school. School education is one sector where Calcutta is doing well but if we are to impose a language and curb their choice, students would be reluctant to stay on or come here."
The Telegraph tries to decode the new policy:
What does the three-language formula mean for students?
Additional burden. Every student will have to study three languages from Class I to X. Bengali can be taken as first, second or third language. "If the student chooses Bengali, Hindi, English, Urdu, Gurmukhi, Nepali, Alchiki as a first language, he/she may opt for two other languages of their choice. One of the three languages would have to be Bengali," education minister Partha Chatterjee said.
Students with Bengali as their first or second language will have to study any two other languages.
Now: Across the boards - Madhyamik, ICSE and CBSE - only two languages are taught in Classes IX and X. The board exams test students only on the first and second language. A third language is taught, but for a maximum of four years - from Classes V to VIII. Bengali is not compulsory, with several schools offering foreign languages such as German, French and Sanskrit besides Bengali and Hindi as third language.
How have the hills reacted?
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the dominant force in the Darjeeling hills, demanded exemption for schools in the Darjeeling hills, Dooars and Terai. "You cannot force a language on us," the Morcha said.
Will minority schools be exempt?
Sources in several Christian missionary schools said it would be an infringement of their rights if the state government forces them to follow the new policy. Minister Chatterjee said the government would request the minority schools to teach Bengali as a compulsory paper from Classes I to X.
What do the schools say?
Several schools are against teaching three languages at the primary level. "The government can't make a five-year-old kid study three languages in Class I. This will put extra pressure on the students. The worst-affected would be children from the rural belts who are first-generation learners. This would increase the dropout rate once again in schools located in faraway districts," said the headmaster of a Bengali-medium school in Howrah.
Some schools said they would not mind Bengali being made compulsory from Class V to VIII, with exemption granted to students coming from other states.
What happens to students from outside the state?
Making Bengali compulsory will make it difficult for children from outside the state to move to Bengal, even if their parents are transferred to the state.
"Every year, we receive a number of applications from children of individuals working in government services, armed forces and income-tax officials from other states. If Bengali is made compulsory, it will prevent these students from seeking admission to city schools," said the principal of a Christian missionary school.
For instance, a student from Maharashtra who wants to join in Class VI would have to take up Bengali midway, and cover a syllabus other students would have followed over five years.
In Karnataka, where a similar language policy is in place, students coming from other states have the option not to study Kannada with written permission from the education department. But in Bengal, education minister Chatterjee has said that even students from outside will have to study Bengali as a compulsory subject. "There will be no other option," he said.
Now:Students coming to Bengal from outside and joining any class between V and VIII can take a foreign language or Sanskrit as their third language.
Working knowledge or linguistic prowess?
Several teachers said that for a student to acquire a working knowledge of the language of the state they live in, a 10-year curriculum may be unnecessary.
"They should be able to communicate, read notices, billboards and follow instructions. This functional knowledge can be acquired either at home or by studying the subject in school for a few years. A student need not write a 100-marks board paper or go into its literature," said a teacher at a CBSE school.
Many were worried how the children would cope if the culture-savvy Bengal chief minister chose to include heavy-duty literature in the third-language syllabus.
What do other states do?
Karnataka made Kannada mandatory in all schools from Classes I to X from the 2015-16 academic year. But students from other states moving to a school in Karnataka are exempt.
Kerala has just made Malayalam mandatory from Classes I to X in all schools, from the academic year beginning in June.
In Punjab, the erstwhile Akali Dal government had in 2008 made it compulsory for all schools to teach the Punjabi language from Classes I to X. However, a number of private schools have not followed the diktat and Punjabi has remained an optional subject.
Do we have enough teachers ?
Bengal has nearly 15,000 secondary schools and over 59,000 primary schools. If every one of them has to teach Bengali as a compulsory paper to all students from Classes I to X, many more teachers will be needed.
Also, a large number of additional teachers will be needed to teach the third languages other than Bengali to students who are already studying Bengali.
At least 1 lakh additional language teachers would be needed. But the question is: does the state have so many Teacher Eligibility Test-qualified candidates?
Do the students have any choice left on language?
Students from the ICSE and Madhyamik board schools who are studying Bengali and English as their first two languages can pick a third language of their choice. The worst off for lack of choice will be CBSE students in Bengal.
The CBSE requires them to study Hindi and English and now the Bengal government wants to make Bengali compulsory too. So, these students will have to stick to English, Hindi and Bengali.
At least two CBSE schools in Calcutta said that about a fourth of their students opt for a foreign language as the third choice. ICSE students who are not studying Bengali as one of their first two languages will not be left with any choice, either.
How did non-Bengali Calcutta react?
One parent said that most of his business was outside Bengal but he had never thought of leaving Calcutta because of his daughter's school.
"There are few cities in India that offer better schooling. It makes this a better place to live in even if it's not the best to do business," he said.
A mother whose daughter studies English, German and Hindi in Class VIII said she was worried that the choices were shrinking. "As it is, she has to take private tuition in so many subjects. We don't want one more," she added.