Will English Empower?

Sam Pitroda has made some startling suggestions in National Knowledge commission report to the Prime Minister. One important one is regarding teaching of English as a compulsory subject along with regional language / mother tongue from Class I across the country. “The NKC believes the time has come for our people, to teach English as a language in schools. And we are convinced that action in this sphere, starting now, would help us build an inclusive society, and transform India into a knowledge society. In just 12 years, it would provide our school-leavers with far more equal access to higher education and 3-5 years thereafter, much more equal access to employment opportunities.”

I find almost all English newspapers welcoming the move. As one editorial of a national newspaper recommends, “Government must implement it right away if India is to realise its potential as a knowledge economy.” I personally may differ, but I like the way Sam Pitroda has put forward the recommendations and it will perhaps click. However, I don’t understand my country’s political clans. Let us see how they react. As I guess they won’t object to it, as almost all their wards must be going in the English medium schools. They all have gone affluent enough to get that done for their descendents.

Let me tell you the different side of the story. I feel some English medium educated decision makers give a little too much importance to the fluency of English in communication as a main criteria for selection of a candidate in almost every interview even when the domain knowledge of the candidate may be of low level. Let us understand that for a call center where one is to do a good bit of talking with customers of English language, the fluency and pronunciation becomes critical. But in technical job, the spoken English may be good enough to communicate the subject under discussion. No doubt, as one goes up the ladder, the communication skill becomes more critical. If you have heard Shri Shashi Taroor and Mr. Moon, the later is poorer in English, but it hardly matters when he is General Secretary of UNO.

I was last year in USA. I came to know of many young men from different nationals from countries such as Vietnam, China, and Russia working in software industry of San Jose. I found their English very poor rather miserable though they had done their Masters from US universities. I enquired if they faced any difficulty in their day-to-day working or in promotion etc. To my surprise, their replies were firm ‘No’.

I myself dealt for a long time with Japanese technocrats of at least a dozen of companies. The English of Japanese used to be miserable, and I did not know any other word but ‘gojaimasta’. I never found any difficulty in communicating the technical aspects of manufacturing technology and management that I was dealing with. I think based on my experience that many a times we Indians are obsessed about English because of our inferiority complex.

Perhaps, the main problem is somewhere else. In Indian school and colleges even up to graduate level, English is taught as literature and not as means to have proficiency in communication and a good standard of presentation for the concerned group. Even in engineering college, English is taught in its first year. I wish attention were paid to improve the presentation aspects and fluency in speaking.

English will certainly assist the candidates in higher education, particularly in science, technology, and management where English is, almost exclusively, the medium of instruction. and more so, in workplace, where English is the sole language of transaction. Sam Pitroda claims, ‘school- leavers who are not adequately trained in English as language are always a handicap in the world of higher education. This advantage is further accentuated in the workplace.”

Seeing the way the competition is to be fought, in graduate courses one more foreign language other than English, may be Mandarin or Spanish must be made compulsory to improve the prospect of expanded employability in different global assignments. “Even today, so far English is concerned, no more than 1% of our people use it as a second language, let alone a first language.” Chinese are already on a way to universal English education to compete with India. India must try to go by the recommendation of NKC to let all the students going for formal education know English as language to remain ahead in global marketplace.

But most importantly, the recommendation if implemented will remove the disparity between the students of different schools and different states. Indians are basically very good in picking up different languages. As part of education policy, English will get universal acceptance and help integrity.

India is becoming a major source of scientific innovation
A linguistic strategy for an economic edge

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