Thursday, 2 April 2015

Recent Amendments in RTE in Karnataka and the interlinkage of Language and Education

The Karnataka govt recently made two legislative amendments which could in near future lead to string of litigations.  The govt amended the RTE Act to make Kannada as the compulsory medium of instruction from I to V standard and introduced Kannada Language Learning Bill to make Kannada as a compulsory language to be learnt from I to X standard. The issue is not a new one, it dates back to three decades. In 1982, the state govt made Kannada as the first language of study. In 1989, the govt made mother tongue as the medium of instruction at the primary school level. In 1994 again issued an order stating the mother tongue as medium of instruction in all the state recognized schools. Petitions were filed against this issue by parents associations in High Court, which quashed the order citing that it was violative of Art. 14, 29 and 30 of Indian Constitution. Subsequently the state govt appealed the High court order in\Supreme Court. In May 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court. Now to negate this Supreme Court order the state govt has come up with the above mentioned amendments. Only time will tell us how much the govt has been successful in doing so.

Let us look at the issue with two dimensions- one dimension is with respect to education and another dimension is with respect to language and hence culture. On the education front, the amendments are still violative of the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country. It is the right of every child ( hence guardian) to choose the subjects that he or she wants to learn along with the medium of instruction. Govt would be wrong, legally and ethically, in imposing the medium of instruction. Whether one likes it or hates it English education has become one of the key aspects of education. Even China which had locked itself to English language invasion is now opening up and promoting English education. Firstpost quotes, "English is the passport  to a good career and the gateway to opportunities overseas."

This decision will severely affect the schools which are running State Board syllabus. Now, more and more students will opt for CBSE or ICSE boards to avoid this imposition. There are surveys which suggest that the enrollments to Central Boards are on rise in recent years. This decision will only increase the rate. Education is a concurrent subject, hence state has equal responsibility in developing the quality of education in the state. The infrastructural aspects of education like teachers to children ratio, pedagogy, school infrastructure are not upto the mark. Lack of teachers and schools are pushing children to opt for private educational institutions. This has been particularly detrimental to deprived sections of society. Economically well of students can shift to private schools and pursue with better educational facilities. But the poorer cannot afford to join these highly commercialized private schools (25% of RTE quota also has not been successfully implemented) lest they want to spend all their earnings on the education. Hence the govt will be well advised to concentrate on these aspects of education rather than using the recent amendments as a political tool.

Now coming to the second dimension, one of the justifications of the govt in introducing these amendments is that if the mother tongue is introduced as medium of instruction then the overall cognitive development of the students will enhance and they will find it easy to understand and also to express. This infact cannot be denied. There have been studies which justify this remark. But this argument cannot be used as the pedestal to make mother tongue as the medium of instruction, as there are other factors like future prospectives etc that will be considered while choosing the medium of instruction.

The govt also refers to these changes as one of the steps to promote language. Promotion of language and it preservation are important aspects. Language is intrinsically linked to the culture and tradition of the region. It is ,of course, the state's responsibility to preserve the language. But, the aforementioned changes are not the way to do this. One of the steps that has been taken by successive govts is appreciable, that is, the publication of Kannada literary books and availability at lower affordable prices. Kannada literature is one of the highly regarded literature in the country. Govt can also further promote the language by conducting scholarship examinations based on Kannada epics like Pampa Bharata etc. Promoting Kannada film industry can go a long way in promoting language. Currently they run tax free across the state, this can be really beneficial once there are enough theaters to screen Kannada movies.

The two amendments of the govt have certain loopholes and hence they might come under litigation quite soon. Language and education are interlinked for sure, but they should not be mixed in such way that they will become political tool wherein the real issues get marred.

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