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Triply blessed

Editorial | New Delhi |

Exactly 35 years after the Left Front scrapped the study of English at the primary level and with disastrous consequences, the Trinamul government’s decision to introduce what it calls the “three-language formula” from Classes One to Ten deserves unqualified support. In retrospect, the dropping of English had caused far greater damage to a generation than the CPI-M’s high-voltage industrialisation that wasn’t. On both counts ~ the search for learning and the quest for a new economy ~ West Bengal has had to pay for a Panglossian agenda. The striking feature of the critical paradigm shift is that Bengali has been made a compulsory discipline in all schools in West Bengal ~ the vernacular, the English medium and the minority missionary institutions. The CPI-M’s disingenuous intitiative in 1982 was of course jettisoned by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee after he took over as Chief Minister in 2001, but the damage, almost irreparable, had already been wrought. The latest arrangement envisages the study of English and Bengali plus Hindi or any other recognised language; the inclusion of Alchiki ought to satisfy the Adivasis and the Santhals. The study of languages has been broadbased; regretfully, however, the cavil of the chattering class that it will add to the burden of children is as hypothetical as it is misplaced. It is hard not to wonder whether the grouse is essentially that of the teachers, who will now face a tighter schedule. It is fervently to be hoped that the execution of the three-language formula will be balanced to the extent possible… with equal emphasis on Bengali, English, and the third language. The noble objective being that when a student reaches Class Ten, he/she will be uniformly proficient in all the three languages. Till not very long ago, some of the missionary schools offered the ridiculous option of studying “Lower Bengali” as a compulsory subject for the Senior Cambridge/Indian School Certificate examination. It was almost a disgrace to the language of the state. In the net, when these students entered college, they lacked the wherewithal to study the university’s Bengali syllabus at the Pass level. Hence the popularity of the subject called “Alternative English”. Indeed, one major lacuna of Bengal’s school education system has been the overdose of English at the cost of Bengali or vice-versa… depending on the medium of instruction in a particular school. An earnest effort to correct this inherent imbalance in the search for learning has been long overdue. The state’s endeavour richly deserves a serious follow-through. As the exceptionally distinguished academic, Sukanta Chaudhuri, remarked on Tuesday: “It is unfortunate that Bengalis, who have lived in Bengal for generations, now view the language with neglect and at times even contempt.”