Despite sitting in class and listening to lectures in English for an entire semester, when it comes to examinations, around 70 per cent of students in arts and science colleges opt to write in Tamil.

For many students such as Sudha Ranjani, a final-year student of psychology, this is simply because “it is easier to write the examination in Tamil as I can express myself better.” However, principals and university officials at a meeting of college principals meeting organised by the University of Madras at Ethiraj college on Monday expressed concern over this trend as they feel encouraging the students to write the exam in English would improve their employability.

More than 15 colleges under the university already insist that students write the examination only in English. “Most students are from Tamil-medium schools and so when they enter colleges, they find a sudden shift in language a great barrier. So we allow them to utilise the option of writing the examination in Tamil,” said a principal from a rural college. However, the evaluator does not know whether the student is from a Tamil or English medium course, and so all students have equal benefit.

In many colleges, teachers end up taking classes in Tamil for the benefit of students from Tamil-medium schools. “Students can learn languages only by constantly listening to it. It is important for teachers to take classes and encourage students to converse in the language,” said an English language expert.

The onus is on faculty members to make a choice. “If the priority is to make students with poor English language skill understand the subject, they will teach in Tamil. But, if their concern is improving English communication skills, they can teach in that language,” said E.M. Prabhu, former English faculty member at Nandanam Arts College.

Administrative reasons, particularly in government colleges, are also responsible for this situation.

Here, half the seats are allotted to English-medium students. “If students do not get a seat in the Tamil medium, they join the English medium, as they know that they can write the examination in Tamil,” said Mr. Prabhu.

Aided and self-financing colleges most often start only English-medium courses and not Tamil-medium courses even if there is a demand for the latter. “Colleges are free to opt for more Tamil-medium courses if they feel students require them. However, they start English-medium courses and students take examinations in Tamil,” said G. Thiruvasagam, Vice-Chancellor, University of Madras.

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