Friday, December 28, 2018

Lessons from Bhutan do not include English-medium education

"Improving the Quality of Schooling: Some Observations from Bhutan" is an interesting essay by Phuntsho Choden and my colleague V Santhakumar.  A key insight seems to be the following:
There is also a realization that 'quality schooling for all' cannot be achieved merely through the improvements in the provision of schooling such as providing better school infrastructure, having better-qualified teachers, or making the curriculum and pedagogy attractive to the students. There may be an equally, if not more, important need for demand measures, which encourage parents to use schools not only to enrol their children but also to retain them through it and ensure that the children learn at school....
Among these "demand measures" is what Section 7 of the essay calls "Focus on government schools":
It is remarkable to note that there is a much greater focus [than in India] on government schools in Bhutan not only by the government but also among the parents.... The majority in Bhutan wants their children to be educated in government schools. Unlike Indian states, there is no notable exodus of children from middle-class families to private schools. Though there are a few good-quality private schools in the capital and a few district headquarters, the rest are considered as an inferior option by the parents who believe that the facilities and quality of teachers are relatively better in government schools.
Bhutan's focus on improving the public education system is commendable indeed. Government expenditure on education was 7.39% of the GDP in 2015; the 2013 figure for India was 3.84%. The figure on the left is a comparison from Unesco's Institute of Statistics. And here is another vizualization from Gapminder.

The quality of schooling is good enough for the authors to remark: "A couple of teachers from Kerala who work in Bhutan note that their own children are receiving better schooling in Bhutan than they would have in Kerala." (And Kerala, as we know, has among the better public education systems in India. See, for instance, the ASER 2016 report, pp. 46-49). There are certainly lessons here for various Indian states.

However, the authors also suggest that the high reputation of government schools in Bhutan could be the following: "The fact that the government schools provide education in English medium could be the added advantage in Bhutan, considering that this is a major reason of migration of children to private schools in India." This suggests that were the Indian public education system to do the same, it too would enjoy a higher reputation than it now does.

Indeed, earlier in the essay, Section 5 of the post outlines just this as one of those "demand measures": "Schooling in English medium but connect with culture". Here is the section in full:
One notable feature of the schooling in Bhutan is that the medium of instruction is English. There could be historical reasons for it. The fact that the early teachers came from abroad and did not have proficiency in the local language could be an important reason. However, the adoption of English as the medium of instruction has not led to a neglect of their national language. It is taught as an important subject in schools and we could see teachers who specialize in it and students who do well in the subject. This is an important point since there are politicians and intellectuals (especially in various states of India) who argue that an English medium education makes the children neglect their culture, and the medium of instruction should be the local language. There are no indications that the Bhutanese people have abandoned their own language or culture due to the English medium education. Instead, anecdotal evidence indicates that they are much more wedded to their culture than most Indians are to theirs.
It is not clear what one is to make of these observations. The authors assert that the use of English as the medium of instruction (MoI) has not led to the neglect of the national language, Dzongkha. As evidence they say that Dzongkha is "taught as an important subject in schools"; that they saw "teachers who specialize in it and students who do well in the subject". Yes, this is evidence that Dzongkha is not being "neglected".

Surely, a far more desirable state would be for Dzongkha to flourish! Evidence that Dzonghka is flourishing would be if the language is being used as a knowledge-language in the sciences, the social sciences and the humanities -- at the school level as well as in higher education; if dictionaries, specialist terminologies and other reference materials are constantly being produced in the language; if books, magazines, mass media, the entertainment industry, and the internet use Dzonghka for pretty much all purposes -- from discussing politics to the latest developments in art, science and technology; if there is vibrant literary activity, including translations into and out of Dzongkha....

"There are no indications that the Bhutanese people have abandoned their own language or culture due to the English medium education," say the authors. Unless there is evidence of the language flourishing, choosing English as the MoI must necessarily mean neglect of their national language. And if there is indeed evidence of Dzongkha flourishing (in most, if not all of the domains mentioned above), it would be interesting to understand how and why that is happening!

A word on the other languages in Bhutan. It is worth noting that speakers of the other 21 languages that Ethnologue lists for Bhutan need to learn the national language, Dzongkha, as well as English. Their educational trajectory is likely to be different from that of native speakers of Dzongkha.

Thus, while there is no doubt much to learn from Bhutan's schooling system, switching to an English-medium education is certainly not one of the lessons India can learn from Bhutan.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

PLSI volume on English and other international languages

Volume 37 (of the projected 50 volumes) of the People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI) is being launched in Hyderabad on 27 July 2018. This volume is titled English and Other International Languages.

As the publisher's blurb says, the book "discusses the status of English and other foreign languages which continue to have a presence in India. While Section I discusses the complex progression of English in the Indian linguistic scene and its increasing acceptance among the people here, Section II describes the status and development of eight other international languages in use in India. The volume also observes how India’s engagement with foreign cultures has enriched the multilingual mosaic of the country."

The other eight languages are: Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish in India. This post deals only with the section on English. The 20 chapters include my essay, "English as the Medium of Instruction at School" (PDF). The contents of the volume are listed here.

The 27 July launch will feature both the series editor Ganesh Devy, as well as the volume editor T. Vijay Kumar.

The volume also has a useful set of appendices. Here is the list with links to where they can be found on the net:

I. Mother English (1854) -- a poem by Savitribai Phule

II. Address, dated 11th December 1823, from Raja Rammohan Roy to Lord Amherst

III. Minute on Indian education by the Hon’ble T. B. Macaulay, dated 2nd February 1835

IV. Gandhi on the English Language - 5 excerpts from his writings. Two books that bring together Gandhi's writings on education are Towards New Education (ed. Bharatan Kumarappa, 1953) and Evil Wrought by the English Medium (ed. K. R. Prabhu, 1958)

V. Debates in the Constituent Assembly on the English language, Constituent Assembly of India Volume III, Friday 2nd May, 1947 -- A recent commentary on the debates is by Rama Kant Agnihotri, "Constituent Assembly Debates on Language", Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 50, Issue No. 8, 21 Feb, 2015

VI. Address by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at Oxford University -- the comments on English language are in this transcript.

VII. Excerpts from interviews with Chandrabhan Prasad -- The Wikipedia entry on him gives the links to many of his writings.

All in all, the PLSI volume promises to be a rich resource.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Multilingual education in India report coming in July 2018

The "early research findings" of the language and literacy project MultiLila will be announced and discussed in a two-day seminar in New Delhi in July 2018. The project's formal title is Multilingualism and Multiliteracy: Raising learning outcomes in challenging contexts in primary schools across India. This four-year UK-India project with its extensive, multidisciplinary network of partners (including institutions and people we have met often in this blog) began in 2016. Its primary question is "Why do some children in India not benefit from being multilingual or bilingual to the same degree as children in other ESL/EFL contexts?" (ESL is English as a Second Language, and EFL is English as a Foreign Language.)

As Mukhopadhyay (see below) notes, the project covers:
  • 1200 children in 4th standard [i. e. 10-year-olds] to be tested at two time points (4th and 5th standard)
  • 800 children living in urban areas in Delhi and Hyderabad (200 in slums, 200 in non-slums)
  • 400 children living in rural areas in Bihar-Patna (200 in semi-urban, 200 in urban areas)
  • Average ability children, no history of learning disabilities
  • No children from upper end of middle class or above
Some of the other questions the project asks are:
  • Is there a relationship between basic literacy and numeracy levels and school drop-out rates on the one hand, and language of instruction and support for MT education provision on the other?
  • Is multiliteracy associated with better skills in critical thinking and problem solving when MT literacy is available?
  • Are critical thinking and problem solving skills in the medium of instruction transferred in the child’s use of English for similar tasks?
  • Do multilingual children show comparable developmental knowledge of semantic fluency, syntactic knowledge, reading and retelling skills across MT and English?
One of the project's co-investigators, Lina Mukhopadhyay, amplified some of the objectives in the Language and Development Conference in 2017 (PDF):
  • To explore how the complex dynamics of social, economic and geographical contexts affect the delivery of quality of multilingual education in India.
  • To investigate how educational policy regarding the role of mother-tongue education (the three language formula) is implemented in schools, and how the language(s) of instruction impact on learning outcomes in basic literacy and numeracy but also higher level literacy skills expressed through critical thinking and problem solving in the language of education and in the development of English as a second language.
  • To evaluate how negative consequences of [structural inequality]... on learning outcomes can be attenuated when mother-tongue education is available.
We look forward to learning more about the seminar and the project's report, Multilingual classrooms: opportunities and challenges for English medium instruction in low and middle-income countries.