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The Rediff Special/ George Iype
Why Karnataka is shutting down English schools
September 27, 2006
More than 100,000 English-speaking children in India's Silicon Valley have been asked by the Kumaraswamy government to switch to schools offering lessons exclusively in Kannada.
Across Karnataka, some 273,000 students already enrolled in elementary schools (classes 1 to 5) have been told not to study English, and switch over to Kannada.
The ban on English has been enforced in 2,100 private elementary schools across the state. And 1,440 such schools are located in Bangalore.
The state government argues that these schools have been violating the language policy, which is the core to the state's Kannada ethos. But parents and school managements say the Kumaraswamy government is curtaining the right to freedom of education in Karnataka in the name of language.
Already, the state education department has issued orders to some 800 schools, stripping them of their status for using English as a medium of instruction.
But why is the state government in a hurry to implement the language order in schools?
Karnataka's Prime and Secondary Education Minister Basavaraj Horatti, whose department is handling the issue, says schools across the state, especially in Bangalore, have been violating the 1994 language policy.
After the policy came into effect the state government allowed the opening of more than 6,000 schools in 1994 on the condition that the medium of instruction should be Kannada up to the primary level.
"But we have found a large number of schools have simply violated this law. They have been teaching in English only, ignoring Kannada. So we are compelled to take the extreme step of de-recognising such schools," Horatti told rediff.com over the telephone.
"Our inspection teams found that classes and exams were conducted in English. The Education Department has been warning schools all these years that this violated the language policy," the minister pointed out.
He said the decision to shut down the schools that "violated" government policy is not sudden. "In fact, before the beginning of this academic year, the department had issued warnings that the schools should take up Kannada as the teaching medium," Horatti said.
School managements, parents and Bangalore residents do not agree with the government policy.
G S Sharma, president, Karnataka Unaided Schools Management Association, said the crackdown on schools is illegal and robs Bangalore of its image as India's IT capital.
"It is a retrograde step. How can a government ban schools because they teach in English?" Sharma asked.
He said the language policy is "discriminatory" because it allows schools, which started before 1994, to impart English-medium education. "Which means some schools can teach in English where as some other schools are shut down as if they have done some crime," Sharma told rediff.com
He said though schools set up after 1994 have given an undertaking to follow Kannada as the medium of instruction, parents demand English-medium education in schools.
"How can one section of society enjoy English education while the government forces the other section to stick only to Kannada?" Sharma asked.
Moreover, he said, as per the Education Act, the government has to give one year's notice to schools before asking them to shut. "But here, the government is asking us to shut down schools at knifepoint," he said.
The Association is moving court against the government order. The banned schools have also formed an association to move court.
Mary George, retired principal of Bangalore's St Gregory Public School, says the government action against schools teaching English is "unimaginable."
"How can a state government ban schools because they teach English? Is the government out of its head?" asked an angry George.
She said the government should change its 1994 language policy because it does not promote education, but "only parochial interests."
"I am not against teaching Kannada in schools. But there should be room for all the languages in schools. We should teach both English and Kannada. Banning English, when cities like Bangalore are seeing an IT boom sends out a bad message," she added.
Not everyone is opposing the crackdown on English-medium schools.
Members of the Kannada Sainya, a cultural activist group, say English-medium schools should not be permitted across Karnataka.
Last month, members of the group burnt an effigy of the 'English language' and submitted a memorandum to the chief minister demanding that education in Karnataka should be in Kannada from the pre-primary to post-graduate levels.
'The ethos and the rich cultural heritage of Kannada are being lost because children are taught in a foreign language,' the memorandum had said.
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