Investing in EMI: Jagan's English move for primary schools is a class act

By Jinka Nagaraju  Published on  13 Nov 2019 7:32 AM GMT
Investing in EMI: Jagans English move for primary schools is a class act


  • AP emulating Japan, Korea precedents
  • National Employability Report highlights importance

Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh government is all set to introduce English as Medium of Instruction (EMI) at the primary school level across the State.

With this move, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is catering to the long-pending demand for such a facility by parents from rural and semi-urban areas, who are mostly illiterates from lower castes and belonging to the lower economic strata.

Parents have realized that English language is the vehicle that can ensure social and economic upward mobility.

Incidentally, it is not just Andhra Pradesh, but the almost the non-English-speaking world, including Japan and South Korea, is gearing up to introduce EMI right from the primary school level.

India, as a nation, is witnessing a tectonic shift from EFL (English taught as a foreign language) to EMI. After all, English is the language of academic research and corporate governance. Nearly 95 percent of academic research material is published in English, which is the medium that helps one to sustain and conquer global competition.

Students keen on pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) have to bank on their proficiency in the generally presumed global language. It is ditto with those aspiring for employment in the corporate sector. There is a global recognition that EMI at the primary level would prepare the student to meet the challenges the English language poses at the higher education levels.

The Union Government’s National Employability Report-Graduates 2013, conducted by Aspiring Minds, came up with the startling finding that t half of Indian graduates unfit for employment because of deficiency in language skills. The report said the employability of graduates varies from as low as 2.59 percent to 21.27 percent depending on the specializations like accounts, sales, and BPO/ITeS. As much as 47 percent was declared ‘not employable’ in any sector, given their poor English and cognitive skills.

A section of intellectuals, however, is trying to foment opposition to the EMI in primary schools with old-fashioned arguments and emotive logic. These intellectuals, mostly well-settled retired government officials, language teachers and those who enjoyed an elevated status in society with their association with the Telugu language, cry foul at the EMI at primary level.

They state that EMI would undermine the mother-tongue and native culture. But, the concept of mother-tongue itself is a political construct of the nineteenth-century and they are forgetting the role English played in transforming the vernacular Telugu into the mother tongue.

Many scholars like Lisa Mitchell (Telugu) and Ashok K Mahapatra (Odiya) have studied how Indian languages transformed into mother-tongues through a process of standardization and translations to English or vice versa after the introduction of the printing press in India. The attack on EMI is also politically motivated and is based on assumptions rather than practical difficulties.

Those critical of AP government’s decision argue that primary education has to be in the mother-tongue of the children as it is best suited for them at that tender age. If this is true, then how can one explain the success of millions of children of NRI parents, who have not studied in their mother-tongue?

It is patently wrong to drag the issue of Jana Sena leader Pawan Kalyan’s three marriages to counter the criticism against EMI. Jagan’s vituperative attack on Pawan Kalyan is deplorable, but it cannot be a defense against EMI.

Now coming to the crux of the issue, the mere introduction of EMI does not guarantee academic growth of the child. The government should not give short shrift to issues of competence of teachers, teaching methods and quality and timely availability of textbooks, which combined together play a crucial part in achieving the EMI objective.

If the gesture is politically motivated and ignores the creation of a proper EMI environment, the experiment is bound to end up as an academic disaster.

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