Debate organised by the British Council and Institute of Ideas, U.K.

English has become the lingua franca for trade and business and is an aspiration of many individuals in India. “But by putting too much emphasis on [learning] the language we are distorting other important aspects and not allowing for a proper balance,” said David Graddol, Managing Director, The English Company.

He was speaking at a debate on ‘The importance of learning English in India is overstated', organised by the British Council and Institute of Ideas, U.K. here on Thursday. The debate also set the tone for the third edition of the national finals of ‘Debating Matters India', to be held on Saturday at IIT-Madras.

Mr. Graddol said English should be balanced with education, and India needs multi-lingual skills. He said despite significant growth of the Indian economy, the country has not shown a net increase in jobs. Poet and writer Meena Kandasamy, however, said English empowers an individual holistically. “If we do not give it importance, it would become like Sanskrit.” She said Periyar and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar even envisaged English as a language for social equality. Eight schools from different cities of the country are competing for the Debating Matters India championship, where they will be judged on the substance of their talk and the most convincing argument they put forward.

Earlier, at a press conference Tony Gilland, Director, Debating Matters, said 350 schools took part in the online elimination test, of which 96 took part in the regional finals. “This year we have taken the regional finals to four new cities – Guwahati, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Chandigarh,” Mr. Gilland said. It has also introduced SMS, where audience can vote for their favourite school or participant. The event would be webcast live on www.britishcouncil.org/in/debatingmattersindia

“In the U.K., the qualifying stages include live debates organised for a group of schools and we work with the alumni in taking up organisational roles, we hope to bring a similar approach to India,” he said.

Claire Fox, Director, Institute of Ideas, said ‘Battle of Ideas' is like a weekend festival in London and now being taken to other cities across the world. The champion from the Debating Matters India and the U.K. will take part in the ‘Battle of Ideas' festival to be held in the U.K in October 2011.

Debanjan Chakrabarti, Head Intercultural Dialogue (India), British Council, Paul Sellers, Director, British Council, South India and Deepak Mukarji, Country Head, Corporate Affairs, Shell Companies in India spoke how the youth have a role to play in designing policies and that debate teaches one to exchange ideas of substance.

Some of the topics for the debate include ‘Scepticism is crucial to debate about climate change', ‘Financial incentives provide the best solution to the crisis of organ donation', ‘The benefits of the new UID scheme outweigh any civil liberty concerns' and ‘Curbing population growth is an urgent priority for India'.