English-medium fallacy exposed

Enrolment-performance mismatch

By Basant Kumar Mohanty
  • Published 12.12.16

New Delhi, Dec. 11: Studying in an English-medium school does not automatically make your child proficient in English, a comparison of two nationwide surveys on school enrolment trends and performance in English suggests.

One in three schoolchildren goes to English-medium schools in Himachal Pradesh while one in 30 does so in Bengal, according to a survey by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA).

But Class X students in Bengal, sampled from all schools across mediums, have scored an average 253 in an English test conducted by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) while their peers from the Himalayan state have notched 229.

The mismatch has prompted educationists to ask whether most of India's English-medium schools are mere "teaching shops" cashing in on a growing demand, and to underscore the flaws in the way English is usually taught in India.

The enrolment survey, conducted in August and September last year, shows Hindi-speaking states like Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh boasting a far higher proportion of English-medium students than the national average of 17.42 per cent. A similar trend was seen in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. ( See chart)

All these states fared worse than the national average score of 250 in the NCERT English test.

However, some other states with traditionally high proportions of English-medium students - Nagaland, Mizoram, Goa and Meghalaya - shone in the English test too.

Panchanan Mohanty, coordinator of the Centre for Endangered Languages and Mother Tongue Studies at the University of Hyderabad, attributed these states' success to the higher all-round exposure to English their children receive.

Not only has English-medium education longer roots in these states, their children are exposed to western music and church congregations very early. In the Northeast, particularly, they grow up in multi-lingual societies, making the learning of one more language a lesser challenge.

In contrast, 88 per cent of people whose mother tongue is Hindi are monolingual, according to the 2001 census. In Hindi-speaking states, the children are therefore exposed all the time to one language, and the teaching method at school does nothing to offset the handicap.

Mohanty said that in almost all schools, including English-medium schools, the children are only taught the alphabets, reading and writing while speaking English, and listening to it being spoken, are ignored.

"Without listening and speaking, it's difficult to acquire proficiency in reading and writing," he said.

"The children only learn Indian languages in these English-medium schools. These schools are mere teaching shops."

Mohanty said he had visited a couple of English-medium schools in Hyderabad in 2014 to prepare a paper on the teaching of the mother tongue versus the teaching of English. He found that the Class VI and VII English textbooks used Telugu to explain English words.

Yagnamurthy Sreekanth, head of the education survey division at NCERT that conducted the English tests on 2.77 lakh students from 7,216 schools in 2014-15, agreed with Mohanty.

The reason for Bengal's better performance, despite most of its children going to government-run Bengali-medium schools, could be its craze for private tuition, educationists said.

Former NUEPA vice-chancellor R. Govinda said the demand for private English-medium schools had increased sharply in the past 15 years.

Most English-medium schools in the rural areas are budget schools that charge between Rs 50 and Rs 500 a month. They pay meagre salaries to their teachers, most of whom are probably untrained, Govinda said.