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Policy violation finger at German option - UPA govt flouted third-language formula adopted after House debate: Teachers

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By BASANT KUMAR MOHANTY ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RADHIKA RAMASESHAN AND R. BALAJI
  • Published 22.11.14
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New Delhi, Nov. 21: The UPA government’s move to allow the teaching of German as a third language in Classes VI to VIII at Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan schools flouted a 1968 policy adopted after a debate in Parliament, Sanskrit teachers said.

The NDA government last month reversed the move, restricting the choices for third language to Indian languages, inviting a court case and apparently annoying Berlin.

However, the Sanskrit Sikshak Sangh (teachers’ union), which had challenged the introduction of German in Delhi High Court last year, called the latest government decision a “corrective action” that should not be “reconsidered”.

German was introduced as a possible third language following a decision by the KVS board of governors, headed by then Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal, in November 2010.

It led to the centrally run KVS signing a three-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Goethe-Institut, Max Muller Bhavan, in September 2011 and introducing German teaching from the start of the next school year in April 2012.

But this violated the National Education Policy of 1968, which says schoolchildren should learn three languages — their mother tongue, English and another Indian language — till the secondary level.

“The (1968) policy was debated in Parliament but the ministry in 2010 did not hesitate to violate it without a parliamentary debate,” Sanskrit Sikshak Sangh president D.K. Jha told The Telegraph.

Current human resource development minister Smriti Irani stressed the same point today, saying the inclusion of German as a third language “violated” the Constitution.

“According to the 21st Schedule of the Constitution, there are 22 Indian languages and German is not one of them,” Smriti said in answer to a reporter’s question.

“Therefore, extending the memorandum of understanding will mean violating the Constitution. A controversy has been deliberately created over this issue.”

She added: “From Class VI to VIII, schools can teach any Indian language and I do not mean only Hindi and Sanskrit. For instance, even if one student wishes to learn Tamil, a teacher will be provided. The MoU with Germany is flawed.”

However, most schools across the country violate the 1968 policy anyway — by restricting the syllabus for Classes IX and X to two compulsory languages — but Smriti or Jha had no comments on this.

Till Class VIII, studying a third language is enforced compulsorily while allowing students a choice of languages (from which German has now been struck off in KVS schools). Under the 1968 policy, the same practice should continue till Class X.

On the ground, however, Classes IX and X students are allowed to take a third language only as an additional (optional) subject — instead of, say, additional mathematics — under which they can learn foreign languages if their school can provide teachers. Last month’s scrapping of German does not affect this.

A ministry official said that KVS students in Classes VI to VIII can even now study foreign languages, including German, if they take it as a fourth, optional subject —something the syllabus provides for.

Smriti’s ministry had in an October 27 order told the students of German to switch to any Indian language immediately.

During Narendra Modi’s recent Australia trip to attend the G20 summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had expressed her concerns to him over this and was assured that the matter “would be addressed within the confines of the Indian system”.

The ministry order does not, however, affect the many private schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education, India’s largest school board, that now offer foreign languages as possible third-language choices even in Classes VI to VIII. The languages range from Mandarin and Spanish to French and German.

Jha, the Sanskrit Sikshak Sangh president, said even private schools have to follow the 1968 policy.

But a senior CBSE official pleaded helplessness saying the Right To Education Act gave the state governments full authority to decide academic matters up to Class VIII in all schools within their territories.

Court challenge

Some 64,000 KVS students had opted to study German in the past three years, and the government decision has triggered a legal challenge from their parents. The Supreme Court today sought the response of the Centre and the KVS by the next hearing on November 28.

The petitioners’ counsel told the court they were per se not against the policy of teaching only Indian languages —they only objected to their wards having to switch subjects mid-session.

They said the December vacation meant that, in effect, only two months of classes remained before the annual exam in March.

“Yes, the time appears to be short,” the bench of Justices A.R. Dave and Kurien Joseph briefly observed but refrained from staying the ministry order.

Education activist and lawyer Ashok Agrawal supported the petitioners.

“The national education policy is not an act of Parliament, it’s a policy prepared 50 years ago. You have to address the choice of parents and children according to changing times,” he said.

He said the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of 2005, which guides the writing of NCERT textbooks, has spoken of “a growing need for learning more and more foreign languages like Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French, German, Arabic, Persian and Spanish”.

But Dinesh Kamath, organising secretary of the Samskrita Bharati, an NGO promoting Sanskrit, said that no government document — not even the NCF — allowed foreign languages within the three-language formula.

Besides, NCERT norms say a teacher can teach only a subject she has graduated in. However, none of the 500 German-language teachers in the KVS has graduated in the German language, he said.

“They are teaching German after getting some training from Max Muller Bhavan. This is a violation of NCERT norms,” Kamath said.

He advocated a debate on why schools were not following the three-language formula in Classes IX and X.