Friday, March 25, 2011

English from class 1 in Andhra Pradesh

A somewhat alarming February-2011 report in Deccan Chronicle - "English medium proposed in all government schools" - has morphed into a March-25th report - "AP schools to teach English from Class 1". Let us hope that the latter report is not a preliminary to implementing the February announcement. It is fine to "introduce English as a second language from Class 1 in all government schools... from 2011-2012". (It is now being taught from class 6.) But introducing English as a medium of instruction is a bad idea. Here's why.

The state's education system finds it difficult enough to impart education in the mother-tongue. The state's performance in the ASER survey is fairly dismal:
  • only 60.3% of class 5 children (~ 11-year-olds) can read a class 2 text; nearly 40% cannot.
  • of class 5 children, 18.3% can recognize the numbers 11-99, but cannot do subtraction; 37.7% can subtract, but not do division; 40.5% of class 5 children can divide. Nearly 60% cannot.
Nor is the situation in private schools much better. ASER reports that between 2007-2010, in private schools, some 5-10% more children have been able to do the reading and arithmetic tasks mentioned above.

And all this is in the mother-tongue, Telugu.

(As in other parts of India, in AP too, indigenous/tribal and minority children get only the dominant regional language - in AP's case, Telugu - as the medium of education, except for the small fraction that can afford to send children to an "English-medium" school. Combined with all the other systemic problems, education in a non-mother-tongue results nation-wide in a third of the enrolled children being "pushed-out" before class 5. And in AP, within the first 10 years of schooling, 82% of indigenous children leave school. References in my 2010 paper in Languaging.)

To come back to private schools in AP, their only-slightly better performance hasn't stopped parents from choosing them. As ASER reports, "Between 2009 and 2010, the percentage of children (age 6-14) enrolled in private school has increased from 29.7% to 36.1% in Andhra Pradesh."

The March-2011 report in Deccan Chronicle gives even more disquieting figures: "the percentage of enrolment... in government schools... came down... from 82.48 to 55.72 [percent] in primary and upper-primary schools, while private school enrolment increased from 17.52 to 44.28 percent... [between] 1995-96 and 2009-10."

With the quality of education in Telugu being what it is, introducing English as a second language is hardly likely to make much of a difference. And making English the medium of instruction is likely to prove disastrous.

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