The ailing English Language Teaching in India
India is the land of Panini,the great grammarian. India is a multilingual country where many people speak and understand more than one language. India is one of the few non-English speaking countries of the world where English was introduced almost three hundred years back and to cap it all, India is one of the few countries having English as the ‘associate official language’. In most of the States of the country, children spend about ten years for learning English as a compulsory language. In spite of all these positive factors, some thing is rotten in the State of English in India. English language teaching is ailing! Nobody knows why.
Discussing the present scenario of English in India is a sensitive issue. It may invite adverse social, political and administrative repercussions. You may eulogize English in private conversation, you may send your kids to English medium schools, you may read English newspapers and make your official noting in English, but don’t propagate the spread of English teaching in public. Experts like David Graddol are tolerated. When Graddol examines the complex nature of English in both education and employment sectors in India, we are wonder struck, we refer to him in our policy documents. That’s all. Knowing full well the importance of English in the educational scenario of the country, the ‘Position Paper on English Language Teaching’ prepared in connection with the National Curriculum Framework, 2005 does not accord any special status to English in the language curriculum. It makes it amply clear that English is not above other Indian languages. The said paper makes an emphatic statement,” English needs to find its place along with other Indian languages in both regional medium as well as English medium schools” (page 3). Ideologically and emotionally, it sounds good. It boosts our national pride. But the ground realities tell a different story. Even after sixty years of independence, attendance at most of the Indian universities requires fluency in English. How many people are aware of the intellectual hardship faced by the vernacular medium students studying in Indian universities and other institutes of higher education? How many people are aware of the agony of the young job seekers who had their schooling in Indian languages and could not acquire English well? Can we deny the fact that English provides spatial and economic mobility to the Indians?
The lack of a clear perspective, the apathy of the policy makers, the half-hearted initiatives of the educational administrators and the inability of the grass root level teachers of English are the causes of the malady afflicting English language teaching in India.
It is easy to blame the poor primary teacher of a vernacular medium school for not teaching English well. But who cares for the agony of the teacher who has to teach the local language as well as English with her limited competence in English? Achieving professional competence as a teacher of English is a life long endeavor. Have we devised a mechanism to ensure that?
ELT is ailing in India and the great English divide is becoming wider day by day. Further delay may, unfortunately, force us to shift it to the ICU. Therefore, it will be nice if all the people committed to the cause of ELT in India join hands with the organizations working in the field of ELT. Political considerations should not blur our vision. We should remember that the future generation will not forgive us if we deprive them of English for our vested interests.