Sam Pitroda is credited with bringing about the telecom revolution in India. He heads the National Knowledge Commission initiated by UPA government. Some of the remarks of Pitroda, as chairman of NKC, about the reservations for OBC in higher education got a lot of media attention. Recently, the commission submitted its report to the Prime Minister. Among many recommendations, the three related to library, translation, and importance of English interested me. We have been traditionally book lovers. My grand father and then my uncle created some library at home and helped the younger generation to get into the habit of reading good books. I remember in the sixties and seventies, the government provided some assistance too. I envied American counties when I visited their libraries. It serves all age groups of the society, Interestingly, Santa Clara library had some Hindi books and VCRs of Hindi pictures too. Here are the commission’s views on library.
1.Library and information services are fundamental to the goals of creating, disseminating, optimally utilizing and preserving knowledge. They are instrumental in transforming an unequal society into an egalitarian, progressive knowledge society. Developments in information communication technology (ICT) have enabled libraries to provide access to all, and also bridge the gap between the local, the national and the global. It is imperative that all libraries (public, academic, research and special) change gear and develop at an accelerated pace. NKC recommends a permanent National Commission on LIS in not more than three years, to become an important part of the development process.
I expect all the metros and towns such as Noida to take some initiative and establish good libraries with all facilities such as a cyber café and a children’s creativity corner besides books and magazines.
On translation, the NKC has some excellent studies regarding its potential to create employment.
2.There is an urgent need to expand the quantity and improve the quality of translation of different types (human, machine-aided, or instant) and in different domains (literary, scientific c, technical, business) that would provide greater access to knowledge across the country. There is inadequate dissemination of good quality translations, which would provide a benchmark and create incentives for more private activity in this area. This therefore requires some amount of public intervention as a set of measures to kick-start a process of encouraging private initiative so that the large commercially viable provision of high quality translation in different areas becomes feasible. The direct and indirect employment generation potential of translation activities is very high, and could absorb a substantial part of educated unemployed youth. Translation can easily develop as an industry in the country. Going by the experiences of other countries, in a country like India with its many languages, as well as the huge potential for foreign language translation, the entire translation industry has the potential eventually to employ between 200,000 and half a million people.
Unfortunately, in absence of good translation of the literatures of the Indian languages, the authors are not getting the recognition as those writing in English are getting.
3.On language, NKC considers that ‘an understanding and command of over the English language is a most important determinant of access to higher education, employment possibilities and social opportunities. And those who do not know English well enough find it exceedingly difficult to compete for a place in our premier educational institutions. This disadvantage is accentuated further in the world of work, not only in professional occupations but also in white-collar occupations overall.
English is beyond the reach of most of our young people, which makes for highly unequal access. Indeed, even now, no more than one per cent of our people use it as a second language, let alone a first language.
NKC recommends to teach our people, ordinary people, English as a language in schools. Early action in this sphere would help us build an inclusive society and transform India into a knowledge society. In just 12 years, it would provide the country’s school-leavers with far more equal access to higher education and, three to five years thereafter, much more equal access to employment opportunities.
NKC recommends that the teaching of English as a language should be introduced, along with the first language (either the mother-tongue or the regional language) of the child, starting from Class I in school. This phase of language learning should focus on using both languages to create meaningful learning experiences for the child without disproportionate emphasis on grammar and rules.
English should also be used to teach some non-language, content subjects, starting from Class III in school. It would also help reduce the divide between English medium schools and regional language-medium schools.
The nearly four million school teachers all over the country, regardless of their subject expertise, especially teachers at the primary level, should be trained to improve their proficiency in English through vacation training programmes or other short-term courses.
The classroom needs to be equipped with appropriate supplementary audio-visual and print material. Resource libraries could be set up in every classroom, comprising of a collection of books, magazines, newspapers, audio-visual material and posters, appropriate to the age of the students, on a variety of subjects.
Language learning opportunities should also be created outside the classroom through specific bi-lingual radio and TV channels, which could be introduced for formal and informal teaching and learning of English. Knowledge clubs could be formed to discuss and disseminate knowledge as well as extend the use of English outside the classroom.
With China going in big way to teach English to every citizen of the country, India must move forward without any bogey or politics of culture and tradition.