Friday, September 29, 2006

The Kannada school controversy

FT has a post on the the Karnataka Government's decision to derecognise schools that don't teach in Kannada till the 5th standard. And then you get posts like this and this that get all senti and like the FT article, warns of the xenophobic, and really "non-kannadiga"-o-phobic sentiments behind the act.

The affected schools (list) are also quite unhappy; as their primary source of income has been "robbed" from them. Not that they care about their students; if they did, they would have gotten with the program and hired Kannada teachers. They're screaming hoarse now that a) students must be allowed to complete the year (ending March) and b) the law was a stupid one anyway, look at how English has helped the IT industry and c) this is xenophobic and anti-student and all that.


There was a Karnataka government order in 1994 that only permitted private investments in primary education if the teaching medium was in Kannada. Let's go into the merits of that order later, but I will say that if schools said "ok, we'll teach in Kannada, give us permission to have a school", and then went ahead and taught in English, they were doing a wrong thing. Just because the law is bad doesn't mean you violate it; you can attempt to get the law reversed or take your business elsewhere. The law against murder means you'll get arrested even if you killed an insane murderer or a bureaucrat that endorsed substandard part purchases for MIG planes that killed your fighter pilot best friend.

Let's now get to the government order. First, I don't believe the government has any right to police education; not when they have miserably failed in their own method, and made the public school system a complete mess. But they must have a framework that schools must work under, and criteria that all schools must cater to; otherwise stupid teachings like Intelligent Design become possible.

Second, what's the real issue? They've ordered that primary schools must teach in Kannada medium till class 5. This does not mean "don't teach in English" - in fact it does allow you to teach the English language, but all other subjects must be taught in Kannada.

And what's the class 5 business? There are no public exams till class 5. In fact, none now till class 10. So schools needn't even conduct exams - and many do not - for students to pass through to class 6. In fact there's no federal requirement of minimum marks to get into the 6th standard.

Note here that after class 5, English medium instruction is not prohibited. That means only till age 10 does one have to learn in Kannada.

But then, what subjects are taught till class 5. Languages, Maths, Science, Geography, History. Students will find it altogether difficult to suddenly switch between Kannada and English in class 5 - but that's not bad at all! Children are fast learners and can easily grasp language differences, the trouble really is that parents will have to do so too. But overall, I think this is the biggest disadvantage, and perhaps the only one.

So why can't schools teach in Kannada?
1) They don't have Kannada teachers, or management. Now that can't be difficult to solve.
2) They don't have a Kannada curriculum. Okay, not too difficult either.
3) They don't WANT to teach in Kannada, because they believe that students must fundamentally learn English only. This argument is ridiculous; English is a very easy language to learn and learning Kannada prepares kids for a potential future with law (legal papers can be in either language), public sector jobs, rural employment and, in general, conversation with people who've only learnt kannada.
4) They face pressure from Parents that want to teach their kids only in English. The problem here is that some parents don't know Kannada and can't help their children with studies; so my take on this is: perfect time for all to learn kannada.

Remember that parents can put kids into private tuition (not a school, but an unaffiliated private institution) till class 5 and then move them into an English school in class 6. This is permitted and will most likely be the outcome for hundreds of those that will stubbornly not learn kannada. Current primary teachers too can moonlight as unaffiliated teachers in such institutions.

Schools, too, can hire only a few kannada teachers and reduce their primary intake (upto class 5). There's a monetary hit, which I believe is the major cause of the school's apparent unhappiness.

Students have been assured of alternate schools anyway, either through a nearby government or "recognised" private schools. The latter have said they'll go to court, which means the primary kids will have beards when it's settled. But I don't think kids are too badly affected - after all, studying in a "non-recognised" school till class 5 isn't very depressing.

Third: Should the law be changed? I think class 5 is too much. Upto class 3 is fine (in my own opinion) and kids should be taught subjects like Maths and Science in both languages.

I also think the compulsory kannada bit should stay; if adults are going to be stupid and not learn the local language, it does not mean they force their kids to be as stupid - they're probably ruined the pie enough by passing on such genes.

And this law should apply to all schools - not just those created after 1994. That bit makes no sense whatsoever.

Finally, the biggest problem is that this protest comes from a Mr. Horatti, who proposes laws like this one that RESERVES seats for the less-intelligent of students. This is so dumb I'm spluttering with my reaction; we'll all now be forcing our kids to be less smart so we can get into a reserved section. Hey, wait. In the age of too much parental pressure and homework overload, that may be a good thing.

Also perhaps studying in shifts will prepare kids for the BPO industry.

The latest is that schools have been allowed to wait out this academic year. But is that just buying time? Horatti may be amenable to a few crores here and there, and an appropriately stuffed pillow may ensure he makes this like the infinitely-postponed helmet rule.

For the record, I'm all for action against these whining schools. And I'm all for a law that promotes teaching kids in local languages during early education.