Tribal languages serving local needs in education – Odisha

Sumanyu Satpathy, The Hindu, September 27, 2012

[…] English learning to whatever degree can be empowering, even broken English-speaking abilities, as I found out the other day. It is not unusual to come across writings on the wall, or advertisements in newspapers announcing private institutes which run English language courses, both spoken and written skills. My brother called me from Srikakulam to share with me this announcement on a hoarding: “Admissions open: for Spoken/broken English.” Obviously, there are takers for such offers in our globalised world of opportunities for speakers of English, of whatever merit. The consequences of broken English can be funny: a hair-dressing salon in Vietnam announces that “American Heads are cut here”. […]

Often the reality is less funny. In India, for example, the poorest citizen aims to send her child to expensive English-medium schools. Government schools are perceived to be worthless because they use the local language as the medium of instruction. Even this seems to be changing. A move seems to be afoot in Karnataka, where many government schools will teach through the medium of English to enable them to compete with their counterparts in private schools, as part of the recommendations of the Sarojini Mahishi Committee. Similarly, the Odisha government has announced that English medium public schools will be set up in three tribal districts in the State. This is going to prove disastrous for the linguistic ecology of India, and consequently for the local cultures. Policy framers often forget that official promotion of any language succeeds only when competence in the language concerned leads to job or other opportunities which, these days, goes by the euphemism, “empowerment.”

This new attitude towards English can also be seen in the now famous avowals of Chandrabhan Prasad. In an interview he seems to be setting much store by English-educated Dalit writers: “Unless English-speaking Dalits take up the Dalit movement as their profession, a pan-Indian Dalit movement will remain a dream.” The ground reality, however, is quite different. In most tribal areas in India, and I can speak of Odisha, a large number of tribal students in certain areas do not even understand Odia. Teaching them in Odia poses a stiff challenge; and certain groups such as Sikshasandhan of Bhubaneswar use local languages like Ho, Munda and Santhali in the same area to teach primers in different subjects before introducing them to Odia at a later stage. One has to appreciate the fact that within the radius of 50 kilometres, such linguistic diversity has to be coped with by asking: “Is there a strengthening or a weakening of balanced local language ecology? If dominant norms are global, is English serving local needs or merely subordinating its users to the American empire project?” (Robert Phillipson) […]

Source: The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : Let a hundred tongues be heard
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Date Visited: Thu Sep 27 2012 21:41:00 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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