In India, as in Pakistan, there is growing debate on the merits of English as the medium of education.
In a recent speech, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan complained that Pakistan must reform its education system from its existing three streams to a singular one. While he was silent about the defects of Urdu-medium schools and madrassahs, he disapproved of private schools with English as medium of instruction from grade one because “they alienated the child from Pakistani culture.”
In India, too, some educationists complain about English-medium schools in the private sector. According to Times of India: “In urban India, there are many more English-medium schools in comparison to Hindi-medium schools. English is used prominently in good private schools and other institutions for higher education.” In all, 17 percent of schools in India are English-medium, with the sector showing substantive growth in the last five years.
More revealingly: “In urban areas most schools are English-medium, and in rural areas most are Hindi-medium. In Delhi, except for some government schools, all other schools teach everything like math and science in English; and Hindi is taught as a second language.” Some state-run schools compete with the private sector by offering English as medium of instruction from grade one.
Unlike Khan, India is not particularly upset about English education. While there has been debate over it, as “teaching in the mother tongue” is supposed to aid in learning, the diverse range of “mother tongues” in India makes it a more difficult prospect. In Pakistan, Urdu is the dominant language and regional languages are rarely discussed. But in India, Hindi is not as “universal.” In Tamil Nadu, they don’t even teach “compulsory Hindi” as the third language after English and Tamil. In New Delhi, “Tamil domination” is owed to its English-medium background.
Arabic came to Persia as the language of knowledge. Later, in India, Persian came as the language of knowledge. Because of the 20th century upsurge of nationalism, English’s status as the new language of knowledge is rejected as an enemy of “culture” and creator of clashing identities. But the job market, which went global at the end of the 20th century, prefers English as medium of instruction. Private sector education is demand-driven and ending it in Pakistan and India will only damage the idea of education as knowledge.