Bucking the trend, some urban parents choose Kannada medium

Language matters: Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy’s decision to start English-medium sections in 1,000 government schools has met with a storm of protests.  

Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy’s decision to start English-medium sections in 1,000 government schools has met with a storm of protests from critics who argued that it would dilute the impact and importance of Kannada as the State language. As opposition to the pilot project grew louder, the CM at one point asked Chandrashekhar Patil, Kannada writer, English professor, and an advocate of primary education in the mother tongue, what the language of instruction at his grand-children’s school was.

With this question, Mr. Kumaraswamy was trying to make an argument that the most ‘vocal’ guardians of Kannada are those who can afford to send their children to private schools that teach in English. And that it is the poorer sections of society who are robbed of the choice. Why should they bear the brunt of ‘saving’ Kannada?

However, Prof. Patil is known to walk the talk. His grandson Chaitra Kumar Patil did his primary education in the Kannada-medium Bengaluru’s National Education Society, which happens to be the CM’s alma mater. Having completed his MA in sociology in 2018, he now teaches at a college. “Not for a moment have I ever felt I lost the competitive edge,” said Mr. Chaitra Patil. Adds Prof. Patil, “Primary education in one’s mother tongue has been wrongly portrayed as a Kannada issue alone. It is more of an educational concern. The child learns best when taught in the mother tongue.”

Childhood experience

Though an increasing number of families are choosing to send their children to English-medium private schools, a few – like the Patils – are bucking the trend.

A small minority comprising upper middle class families including software engineers, doctors and engineers have made a conscious decision to enrol their children in Kannada-medium schools. Many parents themselves studied in schools where English was the medium of instruction but believe they were worse off for it.

S. Sriveera, a Class 6 student, is being schooled in a Kannada-medium private school in South Bengaluru. All his friends in the neighbourhood are studying in English-medium schools. “I understand what the teacher teaches me better than they do,” he said. His father Sanjeev Kautal, a software engineer who went to schools where the language of instruction was English, is determined to ensure that his children, Sriveera, and his daughter Minugu, are schooled in Kannada. “I felt my schooling made me ‘un-rooted’. I had to struggle with comprehension. Learning in Kannada, or any mother tongue, is the most natural thing for a child,” he said.

Ramya Arun, a special educator whose daughter, Sihi, 5, is in kindergarten in a Kannada-medium school, agrees. “Sihi learns in the language she already knows and hence I feel her comprehension is far better than many kids her age. It’s unnecessary stress when children are forced to spend much of their energy learning a new language than a new concept,” she said.

Ms. Arun also did all her schooling in the English medium and says she struggled because of this. “I could never compete with my UG classmates who went to Kannada-medium schools. They always had better comprehension skills. I feel English was a false barrier to acquire knowledge,” she said.

‘People question us’

It is common for people to look at families who have made this choice with suspicion and disbelief. People assume that the child has a learning disability. One parent recounted how a teacher at school asked her daughter why her father had admitted her to a Kannada-medium school, and if he was short of funds. “There is a false construct in society today that fluency in English is intelligence,” said Arun Javgal.

All Kannada-medium schools now teach English as a subject from Class 1, which goes a long way in helping children learn the language. “The transition from Kannada to English medium will take time, but it is being falsely demonised. I scored better than most of my classmates who studied in English medium all along in the Class 10 boards when I made the switch,” said engineer Sankarashan, who went on to specialise in computer science and works at a start-up in the city.

Parents often face pushback from family and friends who argue that they are experimenting with their children’s education. The first concern is that the child will lose their edge in a competitive world. Parents The Hindu spoke to said friends and family have accused them of “being irresponsible” and “imposing an impractical love for language and culture on their children”.

“No parent will experiment with their child’s life nor is this done for the love of a language. Only those parents who have a strong conviction and believe that education is best received in the mother tongue will get them schooled in Kannada,” said Anand Guru, whose two sons did their primary education in Kannada and are engineers now.

Utilitarian view

Prof. Patil believes that the clamour for English-medium schools stems from a utilitarian view of education, which is seen as preparation for a job or career. “English-medium education from primary grades will rob the child of his or her individuality,” he argues.

Kannada-medium schools in danger

For the most part, parents are increasingly choosing to send their children to English-medium schools. “This demand has resulted in the mushrooming of English-medium private schools at the cost of their Kannada counterparts. Even families who can’t afford this are taking loans for their children’s education,” said Chandrashekhar Damle, founder of Sneha School, Sullia in Dakshina Kannada district, which is viewed as one of the best Kannada schools in the State.

Others are contemplating a switch. National Education Society and Vijaya School are now contemplating starting English-medium primary classes along with Kannada-medium classes to contain the drop in enrolments.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Inspired by the film, Taare Zameen Par, a group of friends launched a private Kannada-medium school, Arivu Shaale, in Mysuru in 2008. The school has a student strength of 154 and stresses on alternate learning. “What sets Arivu apart is the clarity on the medium of instruction. There are several schools that started in 1980s following a movement for Kannada in education. But for us, Kannada is only a natural consequence of effective education for the child,” said Janardhan C.S., secretary of the school.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 6:56:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/bucking-the-trend-some-urban-parents-choose-kannada-medium/article26226936.ece

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