"Neither Asoka's Sanskrit nor Akbar's Urdu united the country as did the Englishman's English", said Mr KM Balasubramaniam, who had translated Tirukkural into English (vide, The Indian Express, dated November 6, 1967). "It is English that has helped develop Tamil", he added to prolonged cheers. In a scathing attack on those who opposed English, he said they were against English either because they did not know it or their sons could not learn it. The Tamil scholar who spoke for about 20 minutes received a thunderous ovation when he connected. He was speaking at the Convention on English. His spirited speech was frequently applauded by the predominantly student audience.
The highest court of the land, viz., The Supreme Court of India, views English as the flag-bearer of knowledge economy. The Uttar Pradesh government, after more than six decades, has realized that the Queen's language can also play the role of a 'social leveller'. Anyway, it is better late than never, as they say. The UP government, headed by Ms Mayawati, has made English compulsory in primary schools. The Sunday Times of India dated January 17, 2010, which carried the news (of the UP government mandating the inclusion of English in the primary school curriculum) has quoted educationist Bhalachandra Mungekar as saying, "jobs create vertical and horizontal social mobility while caste, which is immobile, played an ascriptive role. With English came new skills and the system is fast becoming achievement-oriented. " One cannot agree more with Mungekar. By mastering English, those belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes would be better placed to bag jobs offered by the new economy. Incidentally, the UP Chief Minister Ms Mayawati's icon, Dr BR Ambedkar viewed English and the urban landscape as the twin tools for achieving social liberation. He regarded English as the game changer.
I wish this wisdom dawned on other state governments too at least to help the vulnerable sections of society free themselves from the pernicious caste system, if not for anything else. In Kerala, for example, the anti-upper caste movement was based on the conviction that education was the only vehicle that could transport the movement to success. If inclusion of English is mandated in school curriculum by other states, people belonging to the vulnerable sections of society should be able to succeed in achieving social liberation as did their counterparts in Kerala.
Having said this, it should be admitted that it is not going to be easy for the UP government or for that matter any other state government to succeed in empowering the vulnerable sections of society through English. The project will involve resources like time and money. Even assuming the government is able to provide the money needed for the project, time is not on its side. In the first place, adequate teacher strength is not available to teach English since English was not part of the curriculum when the present-day teachers were at school / college. Hence expecting them to teach English all of a sudden is rather ambitious.
The teachers will have to be taught English in the first place so they are well prepared to teach English, in turn. This is going to take time which will prove costly for the students. Apart from schools, the government concerned can rope in the services of NGOs for the purpose though the reach of the NGOs will be rather limited given the various constraints.
The only way to expedite the project is to go in for a pubic-private partnership. Private entities can help the teachers and by extension the students to learn English the easy and swift way. Is such an arrangement practicable and if so, viable? Yes, it is practicable and viable. For example, there are courses like SpeakToday, imparted by Libra Interactive Learning Pvt Ltd, a Bangalore (India) – based entity which leverage state-of-the-art technology to impart English communication skills to teachers and students alike in a cost-effective manner. A PC connected to the Internet and a microphone is all that is required for the purpose. Real-life scenarios, interactive sessions, high-resolution graphics and animations make the job easier for the learner. A unique feature of the course is the VIRO meter, which records the spoken words of the student and evaluates the accent. Students can learn English using a vernacular interface (presently it is available in respect of Hindi, Kannada and Tamil; soon it will be available in other Indian languages apart from leading international languages).