From this year, students of all arts, science colleges must use only English: education council

From this June, students at all arts and sciences colleges across the State will have to write their assignments and tests only in English.

As per a change introduced by the State government, the students will not be allowed to use Tamil or a mix of Tamil and English in their tests and assignments, as they have been doing all these years.

The move was recommended by Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education (TANSCHE) and colleges have already been notified. 

The decision has led to much debate in academic circles.

Professors say over 80 per cent of students in government colleges write their assignments and exams in Tamil, and asking them to shift to English would be unfair both to them and to their teachers.

TANSCHE however, has said the step has been taken in consultation with vice-chancellors of all universities and statutory bodies, and would only enhance graduates’ placement rates, which, at present, are extremely low.

“We had to make a start somewhere. By writing their assignments and tests in English, students will gain the confidence they need for jobs. This way, teachers will also be forced to conduct classes only in English and help the students get comfortable with the language,” said Cynthia Pandian, chairperson, TANSCHE.

The students however, can still choose to write their university exams in Tamil, she said.

The body has also considerably altered the English curriculum by introducing business English, basic language skills and grammar in the syllabus to prepare students to write their assignments. “There is no point in letting them prepare in Tamil all through college, and forcing them to undergo soft skill training just as they are about to graduate,” Ms. Pandian said. By being comfortable in communicative English, they will be more employable, and preferred by companies," she added.

Former University of Madras V-C, S.P. Thiagarajan said that though the University has been permitting its students to write assignments and exams in Tamil for many years now, it was time to “look at the larger interests of students and not look at the issue emotionally.”

“Since our students don’t study other languages, they are restricted to Tamil Nadu in terms of job prospects. Knowledge of English will enhance their mobility to other States,” he said.

For graduates who know only Tamil, the State had just 1.5 lakh jobs available every year. However, universities across the State produce at least 7 lakh graduates every year. These graduates need to know English to find jobs, said K.M. Prabhu, principal, Government Arts College, Nandanam.

Teacher councils however, have protested this decision. They said the new rule would only increase the rate of college failures and dropouts. “Socio-economic concerns have been completely neglected here. This step will only bring in discrimination among students,” said M. Ravichandran, vice president, All India Federation of University and College Teachers.

 “Most departments in government colleges operate with just half the required strength. We are already overburdened and this rule will make it worse,” he added.

A senior professor at Presidency College said, “We have an equal number of students in our Tamil and English streams but there is a greater demand for Tamil courses. Students who fail to get in there opt for the same course in English, only because they can write their exams in Tamil.”

M. Saravana Kumar, an economics student at Presidency College says of the six papers he writes every semester, five are in Tamil.

“I can only manage to study in English for one paper. It is very difficult because I did not study English in school,” he said. He added that while some teachers make an attempt to teach in English, they are often booed out.