Indian Parents want English at all costs, don’t they?

Parental attitudes to English: An interview with Debanjan Chakrabarti at IATEFL, 2014

It was a nice experience listening to Dr. Debanjan Chakrabarti, British Council’s Head of Research & Publications for India. Debanjan is at Harrogate to attend the IATEFL 2014 and in an interview on 2 April at Harrogate he talked about the research he was going to s present on parental attitudes to English in Assam, India . You can see more at:
“The public perception about English Medium Instruction and what parents want”. Is there a conflict between the two in the State of Assam, India? Well, the preliminary data collected by the three researchers of the British Council, India is likely to throw a new light on a highly debatable topic that has far reaching implications for the future of ELT in India. The policy makers, teachers and the other stakeholders of ELT are seriously handicapped by the absence of sufficient empirical data related to parents’ attitude to English Medium instruction in India and this study will surely help us to understand the issue quite dispassionately.
To the popular imagination in India, English stands for upward social mobility and economic growth. Well, is it a make belief story spread by the educated middle class of India or is it the general aspiration of the Indian masses who are the deprived and marginalized section of the Indian society?
The research initiated by Debanjan and his two colleagues at the British Council is a Qualitative as well as a Quantitative research and it is at the pilot stage at the moment. But the little data that they have collected is quite significant. Parents are putting a lot of efforts to send their children to good private schools where the children have an access to English Medium Instruction.
During the interview, Debanjan stated that parents do acknowledge the importance of English, but so far as their priority is concerned, Assamese ( the mother tongue of the pupils) and Mathematics are rated as more important than English. Parents don’t think that English is the most important subject, but they do expect that their children should have access to English.
The parents of the first generation learners of English are more discerning, more pragmatic and more vocal. They are no more ready to be the victims of the great English Divide. Let’s wait eagerly for the findings of Debanjan’s research study.
While I was listening to Debanjan’s interview sitting in my air-conditioned room in the IT capital of India, I was transported to a small village of Sonitpur, Assam where we had gone for an in-service teacher training programme in the nineties. While interacting with the owner of a tea stall where we had gone for a cup of tea in the evening, I asked him quite casually why he had sent his son to one of the English medium private schools of a nearby town. ‘Your son won’t get mid-day meal there’ I told him. Quick came the reply in Assamese “Mid-day meal or no mid day meal, my son needs English’. I was taken aback, I must admit. Was it ‘aspiration’ or ‘desperation’? I don’t know what the son of that tea stall owner is doing now. Is he selling tea just as his father was selling that day or is he working in the IT capital of India?

PS. Midday meal is a Govt of India scheme under which the children attending the Govt. primary schools are supplied free meals during school hours. It’s a full meal cooked and served hot to the children under the supervision of a teacher.

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