In Yediyur, the newly started English medium section at a government school has 30 cheerful firstgraders. The school’s Kannada medium section has only two in its class. The enrolment figures are similar at a government school in JP Nagar, Bengaluru.
A growing belief that English-medium education opens up more possibilities for children has triggered a significant shift in attitudes in poor families, which traditionally preferred Kannada as the mode of learning for reasons ranging from ease of communication to continuation of the local culture. The change has been evident in the falling enrolments at Kannada medium schools for some time, and the state has now taken it as the cue for promoting English in classrooms.
English medium sections have been started at dozens of government Kannada schools across Karnataka this year, and officials have received a deluge of admission requests, in
many cases, more than they can allow or process. For example, 14 government schools in Bengaluru South have received 290 applications for class 1 English medium and 90 in lower KG. They have not received any for the same grade in Kannada medium.
Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy has strongly endorsed the push for English. Experts say the measure is necessary to keep government and aided schools open and relevant. In 2018, 28,847 such schools, which lacked English medium, shut down as they didn’t have enough students to run classes. The Right to Education (RTE) Act provided many poor families an opportunity to place their kids in private institutions, which they otherwise cannot afford.
But only a certain number of poor students can be accommodated in private schools through RTE. This created space for the state to step in and draw parents back with a pitch for English education. Kumaraswamy announced the launch of 1,000 English medium sections at government schools. The model, it seems, has been borrowed from Kerala.
Kannada medium schools with English sections are now called Kannada Public Schools, and the government has deployed 1,443 teachers there. The number of students per class in English medium has been limited to 30, which has upset parents whose wards are currently outside this cutoff. The average student-teacher ratio is 20:1.
Currently, 973 English medium sections are functional and 23 are in the pipeline. Additionally, 300 are being introduced in the existing pool of English medium sections because of the high demand. An official with the state department of public instruction (DPI) said more students would have applied for or joined classes had the government announced the decision before April.
But the impetus to English learning has touched off a debate with many saying it will cause irreparable damage to Kannada medium. SG Siddaramaiah, the chairman of Kannada Development Authority, has been one of the most of vocal critics. Giving the issue a political colour, he said a regional party that should be protecting the local language and culture was taking detrimental steps.