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A plea for Kannada

In 1917, Mahatma Gandhi made a controversial statement when he said Rajaram Mohan Roy would have been a great reformer and Lokamanya Tilak a great scholar, ‘if they had not to start with the handicap of having to think and transmit their thoughts chiefly in English.’ Chaitanya, Kabir, Nanak, and Guru Gobind Singh, he said, were far more greater than Tilak and Roy. Because of their English education he said they could not establish interpersonal relationships with people. Had they been educated in their natural languages they would have achieved higher things, observed Gandhi. The present day English education system has crushed the vernacular, and is similar to pushing millions of children to slavery, Gandhi wrote.

In the last 100 years, scholars world over have expressed anxiety and fear over cutting children from their umbilical cord, that is the mother tongue. The fear has not passed, in fact, it has taken mammoth proportions as the State and society leans more and more towards English. The UN with UNESCO has declared 2019 as the International year of Indigenous Languages, realising the complexity of the situation. In the action plan, it states: “Languages with their complex implications for identity, cultural diversity, spirituality, communication, social integration, education and development, are of crucial importance for people and the planet. People not only embed in languages their history, traditions, memory, traditional knowledge, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression, but more importantly they also construct their future through them. Language is a core component of human rights and fundamental freedoms and is essential to realizing sustainable development, good governance, peace and reconciliation. A person’s freedom to use his or her chosen language is a prerequisite to freedom of thought, freedom of opinion and expression, access to education and information, employment and other values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“Nelada Nudiya Nantu”, a collection of essays that capture the necessity and importance of teaching in the mother tongue has been compiled by G.S. Jayadev, the founder of Deenabandhu School in Ramasamudra, Chamarajnagar District and H.N. Muralidhar who has associated himself with the Vivekananda Shaikshanika Anusandhana in Gottigere, Bengaluru. Both Jayadev and Muralidhar, former professors, share a unique concern for children and passion for education. The book contains writings by litterateurs, thinkers, and activists, as also reports and studies. Yet again, through the book, the two committed educationists, who are authors of several other books, hope to foreground the issues of language and education. They believe that it is the most important issue of our times, and it must be widely discussed in society.

A plea for Kannada

Excerpts from an interview:

Nelada Nudiya Nantu is a collection of essays on the medium of instruction. Why did you think that such a book was necessary at this point of time?

G.S. Jayadev: Last year at the Dharwad Kannada Sahitya Sammelana, I chaired the session, Kannada Shaalegala Alivu Ulivu. It was very well received. Just before the Sammelana began, the government had begun to think of introducing English in a thousand government schools; they had discussed it in the Budget as well. It was very disturbing. Our former chief minister, Kumaraswamy, instead of strengthening government schools was speaking of introducing English. From Deenabandhu school, for the last two decades we have been working towards strengthening government primary schools; we have entered an MOU with them trying to formulate an effective of teaching science and maths. We have been training teachers across the state to introduce activity-based, experiential learning in their school environments. With all these efforts, I have always felt that the quality of teaching needs drastic improvement. Classes are not happening properly, surveys tell us that class five students are unable to crack maths and languages of class two. But having seen these children from close quarters, I for sure know it is not the fault of the children, but with our belief system. NIAS conducted a survey in Chamarajanagar district and found that till about class four students do well in maths, but after that they dip. Why? Simply because teachers are incapable.

In an interview with NDTV our former CM Kumaraswamy felt inadequate to speak in English, and soon after declared that one can succeed only with English. Can personal feelings, personal embarrassments, and personal failings lead to a policy decision? It is betrayal, treachery according to me. What did they do for 70 long years, could they not improve the quality of education?

The PEELI (Punjab Education and English Language) report shows how introducing English was a disaster.

GSJ: It is indeed a disaster, and studies have shown that it has weakened the entire system of education. PEELI is one survey, and Ianthi Tsimpli’s study is another. There is one more comprehensive survey that has come from Coimbatore.

Now look at this paradox: there is a nationalistic feeling all over the country with a call to preserve the country’s culture and tradition. But children who go to English schools have accorded the least priority to India’s culture, tradition, language and values. But rural India wants to engage with local cultures, yoga, pranayama, and the languages. This is not my opinion, but the outcome of a census. Why do we need these surveys, if all our measures will be contrary to it? Also, there are studies that have shown how the maximum number of dropouts are from English medium schools, and it includes Bangalore! We have to rescue our children, and the saviour is Kannada. Our markets speak Kannada, shops speak Kannada, fairs speak Kannada, everyday activities in rural Karnataka happen in Kannada. There is no trace of English there. Now, instead of helping children comprehend better, you are introducing an alien language. As a result their struggle with language becomes greater than improving comprehension. At this rate, we will develop only second rate students. If the comprehension of these children gets limited, it is not because of paucity of intelligence or ability, but because of language policy.

H. N. Muralidhar: About 90 per cent of the child population constitute rural children. So it is not only about language.

GSJ: Media is only highlighting what is possible for the top 200 million of this country. Education, on the whole, is being designed for those who want to go and settle in America. They have nothing to do with India. Bharatiya Shikshana Americada Kanasu (Indian education, American Dreams)! If our children have to get creative, have to think independently, they have to be taught in mother tongue. A child who is capable of reading 45 words at a stretch is capable of good comprehension. But instead of making them achieve it, we are working towards pushing an entire generation of children to become dyslexic. We have evidence, studies, research by UNESCO, British Council and so many other prestigious bodies. Yet, we want to turn away from this truth. We both have discussed this and want to propose to the government to conduct an academic audit of all the teachers and children in these 1000 schools. The teachers are incapable of teaching English, and the students will lose their confidence. To assume that we are enhancing quality because we are teaching English is foolish.

On a creative mission H.N. Muralidhara and G.S. Jayadev; Muralidhara with his students at Vivekananda Shaikshanika Kendra (far left) and Jayadev with the children at Deenabandhu Ashram Photos: cover and centre spread Bhagya Prakash K., courtesy Deenabandhu School and Vivekananda Shaikshanika Kendra

On a creative mission H.N. Muralidhara and G.S. Jayadev; Muralidhara with his students at Vivekananda Shaikshanika Kendra (far left) and Jayadev with the children at Deenabandhu Ashram Photos: cover and centre spread Bhagya Prakash K., courtesy Deenabandhu School and Vivekananda Shaikshanika Kendra   | Photo Credit: Sudharak Olwe

HNM: Another important question that we need to ask ourselves is, what is the nature of English that we are teaching? We are giving them English that helps them manage everyday business. But language is that which is rich in idiomatic expression. For instance, in Kannada we say things like tale siditu, kaalu biddhoytu, hotte odeduhogatte etc. What are we doing when we use such expressions? There is a truth that cannot be said directly, so you say it through a lie, or exaggeration. Only when you use idiomatic language can you capture the breath of the language. But what is the kind of English that is being taught, it is a plain field. If all that you are teaching is -- you come, I go, and there is no space for developing sensibility, creativity or feelings, it will result in the poverty of language. You will neither learn Kannada or English.

It is important to be able to have a svagata, which is talking to your own self and that is possible only in your mother tongue. Creativity blossoms only when there is an abundance of svagatas within your self.

GSJ: From a huge ocean of soliloquies, monologues, conversation with one’s own self… emerges a small spring of creativity.

HNM: We are teaching rote English, so it is like learn English in 30 days, and forget it on the 31st day. It is merely cosmetic and doesn’t draw them into any experience.

What we are trying to foreground through our book is that English in this context is a medium, but it is not so with Kannada or other regional languages. And, the word ‘medium’ is used in the context of the school, because we are of the belief that learning takes place in school. But according to me, this bifurcation itself is unreal. Learning, for us, takes place within the four walls of the classroom. But when we realize that school is a place where we expand the horizons of our life in this world, such problems do not arise. The child lives in a particular language, its everyday takes place in a certain language, in some cases it could be two three languages. The Kannada poet Bendre used to say that till he was six to seven years old, he did not even know that Kannada and Marathi were two different languages. It is such a natural process for a child, so there are only co-languages for a child and no counter languages when it is learning straight from its environment. And when it learns a language, it is not merely learning the language, but also experiencing the culture. What is happening in our education system is that when you enter the classroom, all the things that you have learnt from your world becomes redundant. So learning takes place in a different environment which is unnatural.

When we say language is a medium of communication, it is right, but that is not all. It is like asking, “Who is Gandhi?” and the reply being, “he is a man”. So, when a language is viewed as a medium of communication, there is a choice. It can be this or that. But, language is life. There is no choice, just like breathing.

GSJ: Absolutely. When we challenged this in the Supreme Court, it said, the language that unites India is English. I was shocked. But a judge need not know everything, he maybe ignorant.

But do you think a notion like Akhanda Bharata or Unified India is possible? Particularly, in this case.

HNM: Let’s take Kuvempu’s poem, Bharata Jananiya Tanujate. He says the idea of unity becomes possible only in differences. Until differences fail to become our reality, the idea of integration is a lie.

GSJ: The whole is much more than the sum of its parts. In education, we need to have a common perspective. The school has to be an extension of a child’s life, but we are making it an island. They penalize you if you speak in your mother tongue. There is a census that says ten per cent of the total Indian population can somewhat understand English, of which only 2 per cent know English. Now, my question is how many in this 2 per cent are English teachers?

HNM: When we speak of akhandate or an integrated vision, we almost always speak of it in terms of a geographical space. You look at India map and Mother India is standing inside the map. India, for us, is a place which has many departments that are called states. But, akhandate, is beyond the reality of the map. For instance, do we ever, during our worship say, Rama and Krishna are north Indians? Do we say Tirupati Timmappa is from Andhra Pradesh, Guruvayurappa a Malayalee? Akhandate is that which resides in us as unarticulated, as folk. It becomes a problem when it becomes political. In fact, Kuvempu himself says, akhanda Karnataka is not a political drama.

Both of you share a common vision of education. Deenabandhu School and Vivekananda Shaikshinika Anusandhana are two schools that have been built on the same principles. Have you been able to realize it the way you dreamt of it?

GSJ: I wanted to shape the future of underprivileged children by giving them good education. This, I believed will help society and they will also be able to help themselves. They come from castes that give them an inferior sense of self. I wanted to change all of it. Rote learning had to be replaced by experiential learning. A rich world of experience had to be built for them, they should form their creative universes... where experience becomes important, language also becomes important. I think we are working towards realising that dream in the last two decades.

HNM: Today’s model is establishment centred, but we have to create a human-centred model. This is a dream, not that empirical reality will be created, but the struggle is to bring a change in manodharma, or the way we think. The situation may not be good, but still we have to keep on dreaming.The system is ridden with contradictions, articulated morality is different from the morality that the system practices. Exams create a contest among students, but only when it teaches them to give up, it will make them human. When there are no invigilators in an exam hall, the child realizes that what we are expecting from them is something more than good marks. It will teach them to become responsible.

Kuvempu said we need to create three different models of English teaching as per the requirement of the learner. Will this work?

GSJ: When Kuvempu wrote a poem in English, James Cousins who was a visiting professor at the Mysore University, read it it and said: “What is this stuff?” (laughs). He told him to write in Kannada. The point is that not that we do not need English, we need it for Science, philosophy etc. but till high school, a child has to be educated in its mother tongue.

A plea for Kannada

HNM: English is now linked with money. We make such a hue and cry for English not for Shakespeare or Wordsworth, but for international relations, for business.

GSJ: We need English only after the framework of comprehension is developed in a child, if you introduce it irresponsibly, you will damage it completely.

A hundred years ago, Gopalkrishna Gokhale tried. He made vernacular schools free. It was not received with enthusiasm. A movement like Angrezi Hatao is unthinkable today, because even lower classes, which we believed will carry the burden of language and culture, see English as aspirational. Parents make sure they send their children to English schools.

Parents have to be educated in this. We need more models like Deenabandhu and Vivekananda Shaikshanika Anusandhana. But I have a question to ask? If we make a referendum for if we should bomb Pakistan or to practice untouchability, and let’s say people vote for it. Will the government go ahead and implement it? So now why are you saying parents want it? This is just a game.

Kumaraswamy retracted completely from what he said ten years ago. But nobody is talking about it – no writer, no activist, no one. Does that mean as a society we are not concerned about the future of the children of this land? Why are we sleeping over such an important issue? If 400 million children are not able to see what they need to see, is it not a terrible thing to happen? This society needs people who will not sell themselves for name or fame.

HNM: It begins with language, but that is not where it ends. It is about what kind of society we want to advocate. That is the basis of all our concerns.

GSJ: I sincerely feel this is the most important question before us. The questions of language and education. More important than article 370.

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Printable version | Jan 12, 2021 9:13:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/a-plea-for-kannada/article28901399.ece

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