While the decision is to be generally welcomed, the West Bengal government would appear to be proceeding from conclusion to premise. English sections are to be opened in as many as 65 government and government-aided Bengali medium schools, three decades after the language was scrapped from the primary level and a decade after it was reintroduced. In a sense, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as Chief Minister had corrected Jyoti Basu’s blunder.
The redrafted policy envisages English medium facilities from the pre-primary to Higher Secondary levels. So far, so reassuring. As the Trinamul government now sets about widening the scope of learning English, it urgently needs to reflect on the inherent conundrums. Chief among these is the woeful dearth of teachers who possess the wherewithal to impart instruction in the English language.
Aside from suitability, the ‘teacher strength” is the other impediment that has even been acknowledged by the education department’s bureaucracy in the context of the minister’s announcement in the Assembly. This is the fundamental issue that needs to be addressed by the likes of the education minister, Partha Chatterjee.
A survey on the lacunae, conducted a few years ago, had revealed that the fault lies no less acutely on teachers, most of whom are not suitably qualified to teach in English. The department also needs to realise that students must of necessity be prescribed books written in English, not translated versions.
To say the least, this is a ridiculous way of cutting corners and to the detriment of the taught. Distribution of books that have been published in translation is not the point at issue. What matters most is the language of the original text not the least because both the subject and the language must be grasped in equal measure if the two-language formula is to be effective in schools. The English/Bengali medium student ratio in the same institution is yet another area of concern. Almost inevitably there will be a regrettable disconnect at the time of admission to the same school. The linguistic balance is bound to be upset, with more and more children seeking admission to the English section. Impressionable minds will thus be confronted with a dichotomy. A rational course of action on the part of the government will be to open English medium schools, rather than split the medium of instruction in each of the 65 schools. Without sorting out the intricacies, the initiative can be endorsed with a modified “yes”.