Dhimsa Dance of Araku Tribals

The Telugu World   column# 8          

Rural Telugu or Functional English?

Quoting self is considered arrogant. A legendary lawyer Sir Harisingh Gour (Sagar University founder) stopped courtroom practice when a British judge objected to his quoting his own book, the world’s only authority on that branch of jurisprudence. 

And yet I start with a quote from my own earlier column: “Andhra… declared that it would have English as medium of instruction from primary level. This was supposed to deal a death blow to Telugu as many who studied in English medium end up unable to write in Telugu. The state government alone cannot be blamed because this is a global phenomenon. Proficiency in English is needed in today’s global economy which is technology-driven.… Market trends dictate that children of developing … countries should learn English at an early age. Telugu children are no exception.”

Is competence in English so necessary for science and technology education? I remember interviewing, as a cub reporter in the early 1960s, a Japanese UN adviser on his branch of technology. He was the world’s top scientist in that field, but did not know a word of English. His daughter, studying then in the USA, acted as his interpreter. Those who go to Germany for higher studies realize that knowing German, and not English, is a must. Laxminarayan Institute of Technology (LIT, named after Telugu mine-owner of the former C.P. & Berar state, Daham Laxminarayana, who donated 100s of acres of land to Nagpur University) had German as a compulsory subject as it was considered necessary for learning technology.  

(German is no easy language. Socialist leader Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia got a Ph.D. from Germany on Gandhiji’s salt satyagraha. On reaching that country he found that the professor, who was corresponding with him in English, spoke to him in German.  Lohia, a Calcutta Marwari, told him to wait and, in just a few days, learnt enough German to speak to him. Learning a new language is not so difficult and cries of Hindi ‘imposition’ are just political.)

These stories only show that technology is not the monopoly of English. But ‘abroad’ for most Telugu people means only the USA. Bernard Shaw had said England and the US were two great countries separated by the same language. It is Indians’ knowledge of English that gives them an edge in studying or working in the USA, though in Europe it is French.

But are we learning English as it should be? I remember a conversation with HRD (Education) Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Indian Institute of English and Foreign Languages (Hyderabad) Director where I was present. PV said English, “compulsory from KG to PG”, was a burden on rural students. Admitting that English was necessary at all levels of administration and for study of  technology, PV wondered why a ‘functional English’ course of about five years could not be developed to meet this need, instead of forcing everyone to learn poems of Keats or plays of Shakespeare, which were not needed for functional English.

The Director very promptly said it was a great idea. And forgot it as soon as PV left. The English  education system developed by Lord Macaulay to create a generation of clerks and servants for the British continues with cosmetic changes. The only people not consulted in the decision on English medium seem to be the pedagogy experts, who will vouch that children can learn more than one language without stress.

English medium from KG to PG may be good if it does not increase the use of that language in the administration, but it will negate the very purpose for which the Telugu people launched a movement for linguistic states 40 years before Independence, to bring the local people closer to the administration. It will take governance farther away from the common man.

However Anglicized you are in AP and TS, people in villages are still Telugus. 

(This is a column on Telugus. The Japanese expert, HS Gour and RM Lohia may not be Telugu, but Laxminarayana and PV were.  And so is this author form Maharashtra who learnt Telugu at home) 


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