Karnataka govt makes Kannada medium compulsory: Here's why it is a terrible idea

There have been several instances when Kannada medium students have struggled to cope with their studies after shifting to English medium either at the secondary or high school level.

hidden April 01, 2015 13:33:42 IST
Karnataka govt makes Kannada medium compulsory: Here's why it is a terrible idea

By Aravind S Kamal

Bangalore: Is it possible for any government to force a language upon an unwilling population? Is it necessary to make another language as the medium of instruction in primary schools when English is well-established, internationally accepted and the acknowledged medium to impart education? How will the students, who study science and mathematics in primary school with a regional language as the medium of instruction, cope with the transformation into English in the secondary and high schools? Well, clearly, the Karnataka government has left these questions to be answered by parents and children in a hurry to popularise Kannada.

Karnataka govt makes Kannada medium compulsory Heres why it is a terrible idea

Language dilemma. Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Karnataka legislature passed two important Bills - Right to Free and Compulsory Education (Karnataka Amendment) Bill, 2015 and the Karnataka Language Learning Bill, 2015. In the first Bill, the Section 29(2)(f), which earlier read as "medium of instruction shall, as far as practicable, be in child's mother tongue", has been expanded by adding "Kannada" to it. It means, all state government, aided, unaided, and private schools, which have Karnataka state syllabus, need to necessarily follow Kannada as the medium of instruction at the primary school level (up to standard 5). Fortunately, this rule is not applicable to schools following CBSE and ICSE syllabus.

But the schools following the CBSE and ICSE syllabus too have been brought under the 'Kannada' ambit in a different manner. The second Bill makes it mandatory for all schools in Karnataka, irrespective of the syllabus they follow, to teach Kannada as one of the subjects from class 1 till 10. Moreover, it has to be implemented from 2015-16 academic year itself and the state government will prescribe the text books.

This is not for the first time that the state government has been promoting the cause of Kannada in education through such ill-conceived ideas. In 1994, the state government passed an order making it mandatory for all schools in Karnataka to impart education in Kannada. Since then, it has restrained from granting permission for English-medium schools in the state. While a section of the litterateurs, politicians and pro-Kannada organizations are in favour of Kannada language as the medium of instruction in primary school, academics, intelligentsia and school managements oppose it because they want the parents and children to decide the medium of instruction. According to them, the new Bills are in violation of fundamental rights.

This has led to a legal tussle between the schools and the government with the Supreme Court last year upholding the parents' wish that no government can impose any 'mother tongue' as the medium of instruction in primary school. "The right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution includes the freedom of a child to be educated at the primary stage of school in a language of the choice of the child and the state cannot impose controls on such choice just because it thinks that it will be more beneficial for the child if he is taught in the primary stage of school in his mother tongue," held justice AK Patnaik, author of the judgement last year.

Everyone is aware that language is a sensitive issue and can lead to unnecessary controversies if not handled in the right spirit and manner. Firstly, the Karnataka government's contention that students will be in a better position to comprehend subjects when taught in mother tongue (Kannada) at the primary school level is not completely justified.

There have been several instances when Kannada medium students have struggled to cope with their studies after shifting to English medium either at the secondary or high school level. Understanding mathematics, theorems, chemical formulae and science theories appear like Greek and Latin to them when they switch from Kannada to English medium. Students have often gone into a cocoon during the transformation leading to psychological problems. It is like burdening the students to study afresh in English medium after having learnt the elementary level in their mother tongue.

Secondly, the Karnataka government is of the view that if Kannada is the medium of instruction, it will contribute to the enrichment of the language. Again, this is an ill-conceived notion. Despite English being the medium of instruction for the last six decades, Kannada language has flourished and continues to maintain its literary preeminence. No other language has produced so many Jnanapith awardees and the Kannada literary world and theatre are vibrant like never before. Students do study in English medium, but converse in Kannada at home and with friends, watch Kannada movies and plays and read Kannada novels.

The Karnataka government need not impose Kannada as the medium of instruction just to satisfy a few individuals. It is an irony that the ministers and elected representatives themselves are not keen on their wards studying in Kannada medium schools.

Everybody is aware that the state government will have to prepare for yet another legal battle because both the Bills are in violation of various orders issued by the Supreme Court. If at all, Karnataka wants Kannada as the medium of instruction, then a Constitutional Amendment, backed by a consensus of all other states to impart education in the respective regional languages, is necessary.

There are several loopholes in the two Bills, as they will not be applicable to 'Minority' institutions. The 'Minority' institutions can be categorised into 'Religious' and 'Linguistic'. The Tamilians, Malayalees and Teluguites have their own schools across Karnataka wherever they are dominant. May be, the new rule will be applicable to non-Kannadigas kids studying in schools across Karnataka. Does it really serve the purpose? Nobody has a clear answer.

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