In their world, everything hinges on speaking English

September 14, 2014 08:26 pm | Updated 08:26 pm IST - Bangalore/Bidar/Hassan:

Pushpa G., who irons clothes by the roadside in Banashankari III Stage, pulled out her son Nikhil from a government school two years ago and put him in a private one. This meant shelling out Rs. 450 a month for fees, besides expenses towards uniform, books and other paraphernalia, as opposed to the old school which gave all of it free and gave him midday meals as well.

Way forward

“This is a burden on me, but I don’t mind it because I want him to do well and not end up like me,” said Ms. Pushpa. She is voicing the sentiment of a large section of lower middle-class and poor people in a city like Bangalore, who see English education as the only route to upward mobility.

With government jobs drying up and private companies seeing English as a necessary qualification for even blue-collar jobs, they are making a beeline to privately-run English-medium schools, even if it is expensive, and cuts into their meagre income. “You need to know English, not only for big jobs, but even if you want to get a job in a mall as a salesman,” said Lakshmi, a pourakarmika, who sends her daughter to an English-medium school run in a crammed building, with no ventilation or playground.

The trend among parents to send their children to English-medium schools is not just limited to Bangalore, but is witnessed increasingly across the State, ranging from a multi-lingual border district like Bidar to a south Karnataka district like Hassan, with a large number of Kannada speakers.

Though Bidar has thousands of children studying in Urdu, Marathi, Hindi and Telugu schools, the number of students attending English-medium schools is steadily rising over the last two decades. In the last 10 years, the government has closed down around 200 government, Kannada, Marathi and Urdu schools in Bidar.

“In the 1990s, English-medium schools had less than five per cent of students in the district. Now, they have nearly a third of the total student population,” says a senior officer of the Department of Education in Bidar.

Abdul Quadeer, secretary of the Allama Iqbal Education Society that runs Urdu and Kannada-medium schools, argues that their good pass percentage over the years proves that English schools are not necessarily better. “For 15 years now, our students have outperformed those from English-medium schools in the district,” he said, adding that dedication of teachers and close academic monitoring has ensured good results.

However, parents who send their children to English-medium schools say their decision is founded out of good practical sense. They say English will help their children develop confidence to face a competitive world and get lucrative jobs.

A.P. Pavitra of Shettihalli in Channarayapatna wants her daughter to learn both English and Kannada. “We are farmers; we could have saved money if we had sent her to a government Kannada school. But we know the money we spend will not be wasted. We feel proud when our five-year-old daughter recites English rhymes,” she says.

Keeping pace

Some parents, who studied in Kannada-medium schools, feel their children need to learn English to keep pace with the changing times. G.K. Suresh, who works in a private finance firm in Hassan, said: “Writers and thinkers keep talking about primary education in the mother tongue. But, why study Kannada when private employers expect good English communication skills? If I had studied in English-medium in primary school, I would have been in a bigger position in my own company.”

(By Bageshree S. in Bangalore, Rishikesh Bahadur Desai in Bidar and Sathish G.T. in Hassan)

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