Saturday, January 7, 2017

English medium instruction in municipal schools: A viable proposition?

Often enough, in India, Shakespeare's "whining schoolboy" is in the news – in relation, I must add, to the language in which the Bard wrote about him.  They both – the schoolboy and the English language – are in the news again now. A few months ago, the government of Andhra Pradesh (AP) dropped a demonetization-like bombshell when it announced that, with immediate effect, English would replace Telugu as the medium of instruction (MoI) in the municipal schools in the State. In response to protests by teachers’ unions, however, the government has relented on the issue; yesterday’s papers said that the ‘controversial move’ had been ‘put on hold’ (The Hindu, Vijayawada Edition, 6 January 2016, p. 1).

English-in-schools policies in India
The state governments' English-in-schools policies are interesting.  In some states, English is not at all part of the primary school curriculum.  In some, it is, as in Andhra Pradesh, but is offered only from Class III.  Maharashtra, which had been offering English only from Class VIII, changed its policy at the dawn of the new millennium and introduced English in Class I itself.  The West Bengal government, which had been firmly against a place for English in the primary school for more than two decades, changed its policy in the year 2000 and introduced English in Class III, following the Tamil Nadu example.  Later, it dispensed with the policy altogether and introduced it in Class I itself.

The obsession with English in AP
But, this post is about English as the MoI in the government-run schools in Andhra Pradesh. During the past ten years so, irrespective of the party in power, the government of AP has been keen on introducing English as the MoI in all schools. In 2008, six years before the State was bifurcated, the government rolled out an interesting MoI policy called SUCCESS, an acronym for Strengthening and Universalizing Quality of and Access to Secondary Schools, for implementation in select schools.  In these 6,500 schools identified for SUCCESS, instruction was made available in both English and Telugu, and parents could opt for one of these two languages as the MoI for their children. There are only 3072 SUCCESS schools in AP now, as 3428 became part of Telangana in 2014. In 2015-16, the government wanted the SUCCESS schools to become fully-fledged English-medium schools with the Telugu-medium sections in them being shifted to non-SUCCESS high schools in the neighbourhood, and issued orders to this effect, but has failed to implement the orders so far. The government also announced that the teachers of the SUCCESS schools would be trained by UNICEF, the British Council, and English and Foreign Languages University during summer holidays, but this plan also remains only on paper. The last two events in this English as the MoI history are the decision to replace Telugu with English as the MoI in all the municipal schools and the climb-down a couple of days ago.

The reasons for the obession
Why is the government so fixated on English as the MoI? I can think of two reasons.

First, enrolment in government-run schools in AP has greatly declined, and perhaps the government thinks that “upgrading” them into English medium schools will give them a makeover. At the beginning of this academic year, there were as many as 5639 primary schools with fewer than 20 children in each, and the government wanted to close 2,300 of them by merging them with upper primary schools. (The situation is worse in Telangana where 6,361 primary schools are facing the threat of closure.)

Can English medium provide the needed attraction? The government seems to think so. But, it is not altogether wrong because, the Telugus, unlike the Tamils, the Malayalees and even the Maharashtrians, seem to put a high premium on English language education to the extent of ignoring their mother tongue; the craze for English-medium education runs so deep here. During the three school-year period till 2006, enrolment at the upper-primary level in English medium schools in AP registered a dramatic 100% increase (i.e. from 10.6 lakh to 20.9 lakh), while the figures for Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Kerala for the same period are 17% (from 14.7 lakh to 17.2 lakh), 12% (10.6 lakh to 11.9 lakh) and 3% (2.4 lakh to 3.2 lakh) respectively [].

Secondly, the government seems to think that an early start in English is necessary to cope with the needs of a fast globalizing economy.  It seems to assume that an early start will serve to equalize learning opportunities and empower the underprivileged sections of society.  Implicit in this assumption is the cynical belief that the mother tongue is inimical to the child's success in the job market.

Can an early start in education through English help?
Are the government’s assumptions about an early start in English education yielding gains valid?

Research has shown that a late start in a second or foreign language is not at all a disadvantage: late starters can easily catch up with early starters, using the skills they have learnt in their first language, if they have attained, in the first language, what is called CALP (cognitive and academic language proficiency). And acquiring CALP in the first language doesn’t involve a long and painful process. Proficiency in the mother tongue is, therefore, a resource.  A good deal of research has been done in the area of the best starting age for learning a second language. The findings (e.g. Lightbown, P. M., and Spada, N. 2006. How Languages are Learned. Oxford University Press) indicate that unless an L2 learning situation is similar to that of an L1 acquisition situation, which is possible in the case of total immersion, learning a second or a foreign language in childhood is not at all an advantage. As a matter of fact, research results suggest that one can learn a second language more effectively if one starts around 12-14 years.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that an early start is advantageous, its success depends upon competent teaching.  Is this possible in our State-run schools?

Can our State-run schools cope with the demands of English as the MoI?
Yesterday, I did a good deal of field work visiting a few SUCCESS schools in Vijayawada Urban and discussing with a cross section of teachers the teaching-learning situation obtaining there during the past eight years, ever since the introduction of English as the MoI alongside Telugu. From what the teachers said, this is how I understand the situation:

1.The teachers were pushed into teaching  through English with no preparation or training.

2.When the SUCCESS programme was launched, the government promised to train the teachers adequately through different means. GO Ms No. 76 Education (SE-TRG) Department dated 10 June 2008 promises the following, among others:

  (a) adequate training for the subject teachers drawing upon the expertise of English and Foreign Languages (EFL) University and the Regional Institute of English (RIE);

  (b) long-term training for 40-45 secondary-grade teachers at EFL University, the RIE and other institutions and then using them as resource persons for conducting district-level training programmes for the rest of the teachers; and

  (c) equipping each of the 6500 schools with an English language lab and 6 English-Telugu and 6 Telugu-English dictionaries).

All these grandiose plans have remained a pipe dream to this day; none of them has materialized. Except for a 5-day orientation programme in 2008, there has been no training whatsoever during the past eight years or so.

3.Far from putting in a mechanism for training teachers, the government has withdrawn the only mechanism available, namely the District Education Centre for English (DECE). In Krishna district, for instance, a DECE was set up in Vijayawada under a Government of India scheme with funding from MHRD for the first five years. This had been done in 2006, two years before the SUCCESS programme commenced, and as Director, Loyola ELT Centre, I was also associated with the training programmes of the DECE. But, in 2011, when the SUCCESS programme was in full swing, the DECE was closed down because the funding from MHRD stopped. Ironically enough, the GO referred to above orders the Director of School Education to strengthen the existing DECEs with ‘additional training and hostel facilities’ and set up three new DECEs in each district where there is no DECE ‘to provide training to the High School Teachers in improving their English language abilities.’ Do you know how the Department of School Education implemented this? By winding up the only DECE in Krishna district, leaving the district with neither a DECE nor an ELTC!

4. Neither has the government been serious about equipping schools with adequate number of teachers. According to the latest National Assessment Survey (NAS) conducted by the NCERT, (a) State-run schools in AP are short of 17,129 teachers; (b) 31% of the headmaster posts are vacant; (c) absenteeism among teachers is very high; and (d) 50% of the teachers are not teaching at all. (The last of the four findings involving arithmetical precision intrigues me; perhaps, this has to do with the figures for teacher absenteeism, too. For more information on the subject, one may read the paper, ‘Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot,’ by Micheal Kremer of Harvard University and four others, including three World Bank officials, in Journal of European Economic Association, April-May 2015.

When the subject teachers are so ill-equipped and feel demotivated on account of the cold-shouldering by the government, one cannot expect their teaching to be very competent. It is an open secret that even in private English medium schools and colleges, English education is by and large impoverished. While subject teachers rarely use English, even English teachers teach the content through Telugu even in urban areas. When this is the situation in the majority of the private English medium schools themselves, if the government expects teachers in State-run Telugu medium schools, especially those in rural areas which constitute the majority of our schools, to become competent teachers through English through their own efforts, it is living in a dream world.

The way forward
But, governments don’t listen. I’m sure that later if not sooner, municipal schools will become English medium schools with the bulk of the teaching taking place through Telugu and the students doing a poor job of memorizing answers in English to serve examination purposes. That cannot be averted altogether, but disaster management is certainly possible. If only the government makes a sincere attempt to follow the programme of action it set out for itself eight years ago in GO Ms No. 76, then it is possible to achieve some degree of success in the implementation of English-as-the-MoI policy in the municipal schools and remedy the situation in the SUCCESS schools.


  1. Sir, when I first read the news headline declaring English MoI in Municipal schools of AP, what struck my mind was how far the teachers are ready?.As your post delineated, sheer negligence on the part authorities in training teachers is shocking and decision to face lift the status of schools by introducing English as MoI is a cruel joke, in the given case. And the roll out of decision is again only motivated by political appeasement of pressure groups rather than by realizing ground reality, I think.

    1. But it is possible to remedy the situation even now. It calls for a multi-pronged strategy. I would suggest the following:

      a. Setting up at least three district education centres for English (DECE) in each district and appointing carefully identified secondary-grade teachers as trainers in the centres. The trainers should given adequate training before they start training their fellow-teachers.
      b. Organizing summer training camps with reputable faculty trainers as resource persons.
      c. Adopting the cascading model which is more sustainable than (b) above. This is how it can be done. Some 50 secondary-grade teachers with some degree of fluency in English could be carefully selected and then trained at the RIE, EFL and even our ELT Centre. Later, they can train their fraternity within the system.

      There is no limit to the possibilities, Siva. Where there is a will, there's a way. The government can put together a committee of experts, including a bureaucrat from the School Education Department, for this purpose. The committee should be given the powers to formulate a time-bound plan of action and supervise its implementation. With dedicated, sustained work, it is possible to train the maximum number of teachers and develop in them the confidence that is required for teaching through English.

      It is not as though the bureaucrats who run the system are unaware of this. Actually, GO Ms No. 76 Education (SE-TRG) Department dated 10 June 2008, which was issued when the government wanted to introduce the SUCCESS scheme in 2008, sets out a programme of action similar to the one I have outlined above. But they seem to be unwilling. That, I think, is the root of the problem.

    2. Yes Sir, Where there is will, there is a way. But as you rightly pointed out at the end, the government is not trying to remedy the root cause but just to whitewash the situation.

    3. I'm thinking aloud, Siva. Do you think teachers can protest? Teachers normally fight for a pay rise and other monetary benefits. For once, they can fight for an academic interest – a proper transition from Telugu as the MoI to English in this case – and demonstrate for once that they are committed to academic interests. But, I wonder if this is not a utopian dream. To the best of my knowledge, teachers fighting to protect academic interests has never taken place anywhere in the world.

      But, something else is possible. Considering the influence that the media, especially television channels, exercise, I wish that the issues I have dealt with in my post would be discussed on Telugu TV channels; that may force politicians to pay serious attention to the issues. But, unless this is done in a sustained way with people who matter taking part in the discussion, even this may not be very effective.

  2. As you said, one of the reasons for this decision could be to increase the enrollment percentage in the State-run schools. David Graddol, in his book, English Next India, published in 2010, states that an increasing number of parents from rural area are interested in sending their children to private-run English-medium schools. He even states that around 28% of children from rural areas in Andhra Pradesh attend private schools.

    What bothers me is the fact that the State considers English as a big selling point at the cost of ignoring Telugu. It is true that the Telugus exceed their limits in embracing the English language. But embracing it to this extent of replacing Telugu as the MoI is alarming.

    The situation in Andhra Pradesh is just a case in point. On a larger scale, across the country, people do believe that not being able to speak English is a sin. Thanks to the efforts of organizations such as the British Council who made us believe that English is far more important than our regional languages. I feel this is a different form of colonization.

    In short, sir, I feel with policies such as these, we are literally framing laws for our own linguistic oppression.

    That said, I do not want to question the importance of English as an international language. Yes, English is important. However, promoting it for the purpose of increasing enrollment percentage at the cost of ignoring regional languages (Telugu, in this case) is undesirable. This will further widen the gulf between the English-speaking and the non-English-speaking people.

    Secondly, the policies that are framed in our country, by and large, go little beyond papers and discussions. Often enough, these policies talk about constructing a utopian world rather than strengthening the foundation. In this case, when we are supposed to address some of the challenging issues such as reducing the absenteeism among teachers teaching in the municipality schools and increasing the human resource in these schools, we are aiming at constructing impressive structures. Teachers who enter the classroom with little knowledge of how to deal with the sudden change in the curriculum will, later if not sooner, invent ways to cheat the system.

    What is the way out, then?

    a) I think the decision of implementing English as the MoI in some state-run schools could indiscriminately be postponed to two to three years. In the mean time, the government could prepare the ground.
    b) Secondly, even before imposing English on them, the government should take care of improving infrastructure and other basic facilities in the State-run schools. Even now some schools lack basic infrastructural facilities such as good classrooms, drinking water, and toilets. What use is it to introduce grand changes in the curriculum when children are deprived of a comfortable stay in schools?
    c) Thirdly, as you suggested, a workable action plan to train teachers is important.
    d) Moreover, we primarily need a watchdog mechanism to ensure quality teaching takes place in the State-run schools. The financial motivation in these schools is very high. These teachers get paid well. But is the work they are doing proportional to the pay they are receiving? It’s time the government thought about this aspect also.

    Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady says to Freddie:

    "Words, words, words!
    I'm so sick of words
    I get words all day through…"

    I think the song fits well in the current situation. It’s high time the government stopped saying words and actually did something to improve the face of education in Andhra Pradesh.

  3. Sir, this is really an interesting and at the same time shocking blog post. First, it is interesting for the detailed analysis of the issue and the extensive research (field visits, discussions with the teachers, data collection...) you did in this regard. Second, it is shocking for the indifferent attitude on the part of the government towards MoI policy existence and teachers laxity towards their responsibilities. At this stage, it is the position of the students which is going to be on the thin ice if people concerned don’t come to the rescue by suggesting the ways of policy implementation. Government on its end, has to lay down milestones to check the issue in a thoughtful way. - Raja Kumar

  4. Sir,as far as my knowledge goes, this would be a great idea which would result into a great beneficial factor for all the Telugus. They say India is divided into two Indias. Rich India and poor India. If all the government Telugu medium schools in Andhra Pradesh turn into English medium schools, it would be a happy thing for these poor Indians. All those parents who eat once a day to let their children study in English medium schools might eat thrice a day. Now it depends on how our corrupted politicians and lazy government teachers (not all, most of them) take it and react towards it. Telugu language won't disappear if certain practical measures are taken. _______ Naresh Maruboina

    1. Yes, English can empower the poor, and it is nobody's case that English should not be introduced as the MoI. The problem is we don't have enough teachers, let alone teachers who can teach competently through English. Considering the influence that the media, especially television channels, exercise, I wish that the issues I have dealt with in my post would be discussed on Telugu TV channels; that may force politicians to pay serious attention to the issues.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Dear Sir, I would like to appreciate your painstaking efforts in writing this article and in holding discussions with the teachers. This is an informative article that sheds light on the policies of English-in-schools in our country, the obsession our A.P. has for English-medium education, and its new craze of English replacing Telugu as the MoI in the municipal schools. As rightly observed by you, the reasons could be attributed to the decline in the enrolment in government schools and the governments’ mistaken belief of Telugu thwarting the students’ success in gaining employment. But, surprisingly, our governments on one hand propagate the greatness of Telugu language and its heritage and on the other hand are inimical to its progress and popularity. Moreover, the governments’ assumption in introducing English at an early stage appears to be invalid. At this juncture, I would like to quote my own experiences as a teacher of English. Most of the students in my classes hail from English medium schools but a majority of them cannot speak and write intelligibly. They face the difficulty of expressing themselves in the contexts provided to them though they were introduced to English at an early stage. The reasons for this unpleasant situation could be three: First, the students not being provided ample opportunities to use English in the classes; second; the teachers not being trained adequately to meet the requirements of the changing times; and, third; the low opinion attached to English by the academicians and the other subject teachers. Here, I would like to quote the words of my colleague from one department at which I completely dumbstruck. “Madam, what is there to teach in English classes?”. This situation, I suppose, prevails in many engineering colleges and I think it’s time they changed this belittling feeling about English. In addition to this, I feel that the governments should take some corrective measures to present English as a language to the students and not as a subject. Also, I think the governments should use the expertise of the veteran professors to design syllabi that provide plenty of opportunities to the students to learn and use English language in the classes. Furthermore, governments should make serious attempts to put in a mechanism for training the teachers to meet the needs of the students in these ever changing times.

    1. A good analysis and very good suggestions, Vijaya. As you have rightly pointed out, on public forums, people make appropriate noises about the importance of English, but, in practice, they give it what in Indian English is called a step-motherly treatment. If the teaching of English receives a special treatment in our college, it is largely due to the support from our Chairman, Dr Vallurupalli Nageswara Rao.

      I agree with you that, in many colleges, English is treated like any other subject with the course design providing for the teaching of content rather than the development of identified skills. While I agree with you that courses in English should be designed carefully, I'd rather they were designed by teachers themselves rather than by experts. Experts may empower teachers by introducing them to the principles of course design and help them design courses. This will lead to teachers owning the courses they have designed and remaining committed to them.

      Yes, training is necessary. When you introduce something new, adequate orientation is essential.

  6. The Hindu has reported something more on the subject today:

  7. Some positive development. The Government of Andhra Pradesh is establishing an English Language Teaching Institute (ELTI) at Guntur to train teachers. An order to this effect was issued the day before yesterday. Here is the operative part of GO Ms No. 6 School Education (Prog. II) Department dated 16 January 2017:

    “In the circumstances reported by the Commissioner of School Education, A.P. Amaravati in the reference read above, after careful examination of the matter, Government hereby accord permission to the Commissioner of School Education, A.P. Amaravati for conversion of District Centre for English, Guntur into English Language Teaching Institute to impart training to in-service teachers both in English Language Teaching and Teaching of Non Language Subjects in English Medium under the scheme of financial assistance to the English Language Teaching Institute, sponsored by Department of School Education, MHRD, GoI through EFLU, Hyderabad.

    “The Commissioner of School Education, A.P. Amaravati and the Director, SCERT, A.P. Amaravati shall take further necessary action accordingly and also requested to make necessary budget provision in the B.E. 2017-18.”

    I spoke to a SUCCESS school teacher about this government order. He described the District Centre for English, referred to in the GO, as a “defunct” one. The question of converting it into an ELTI, therefore, doesn’t arise. Perhaps, the government is establishing an ELTI with financial assistance from MHRD through EFL University, Hyderabad. The GO is silent about the organizational structure of the ELTI and when it will start functioning. Normally, MHRD funding doesn’t last for more than five years. I hope the State Government doesn’t close down the ELTI once the funding stops. That’s what, if you remember, the Government did in the case of the DEC in Krishna district.