Thursday, February 07, 2008

English will emancipate the downtrodden in India

In an earlier article, I emphasized on why Primary Education is the number one priority for India. My regular visits to the interior lands of India has confirmed by belief that English, as the medium of instruction in schools, is the only savior of the downtrodden- rural, economically backward and lower castes of India.

English should be taught to all children of India. In addition, English should be the medium of instructions in all government schools. Currently, most state run schools use the regional language as the medium of instruction. The kids coming out of such schools have limited access to opportunity. Their job opportunities are confined to certain government positions and other local jobs, and they are disadvantaged even in those. They cannot easily make it to an IIM, ISB or Infosys, because of their ‘communication skills’.

What about learning our regional languages?

It’s very easy to manage education of one’s regional language. I studied in an English-medium school with Telugu as the first language. We learnt three languages – Telugu, Hindi, and English, while the medium of instruction for Social Studies, Sciences, and Mathematics was in English.

Telugu was always the toughest, being the first language (I guess) and the fact that it is inherently a more complicated language, than say, English. I can pick up a Telugu newspaper and read it, and I can even write in Telugu. Ten years of education is good enough to feel proud of one’s mother tongue. There is no need to prove that we can write our Ph.D. thesis in Metallurgy in our regional language.

We have not evolved our regional languages to talk the language of science and technology, thanks to our laziness, to our own pride which relegated these languages to poetry, fiction and for discussing social and political aspects, and to our stubbornness to retain the sanctity of the old language while refusing to reform it to suit the modern needs. Most importantly, science, technology and modern (constitutional democratic) institutions did not originate in our lands, and hence our languages have never adapted to deal with them.

Instead of fighting a losing battle to adapt these regional languages to study and address the modern issues, such as globalization, technology, science, universal values, etc, it’s high time we realize that our regional languages are not equipped to handle such issues. Topics such as sciences, mathematics, technology, globalization and new research will be handled well by English. That is the only way to bring the backward people of India into the mainstream. No other palliative will ameliorate their backwardness unless this issue is addressed head on.

English will emancipate our downtrodden

The new and emerging opportunities in India, guided by modern corporations, global giants, and big banks, are biased towards English. The kids from rural India who study in the medium of a regional language tend to get disadvantaged when competing against urban kids. They have to work much harder to prove themselves worthy compared to a kid educated in English-medium school of urban India.

The biggest problem of India is lack of awareness and the lack of medium and tools to bring that awareness to the masses. What I found when talking to youth from backward regions is the immense gap in awareness. Lack of awareness – a prolonged one which spans your lifetime – can be a quite a big handicap, which cannot be crossed or bridged with two years of scholarship, four years of free education, and a free trip to a city.

The Internet which has opened up information to billions in the world has NOT been effective in doing the same to rural India, because the Internet’s content is primarily English. While efforts should be made to create content in regional languages, this movement alone cannot be relied upon to bring the backward people of India out of their miseries. We just cannot wait for the regional content to trickle down to them, which may take many years. Instead we should put our money to bring the masses closer to the content and that can be done through English as medium of instruction.

New opportunities only for English-speaking Indians

Many new jobs and many new opportunities are again limited to those who communicate well in English. Many rural Indians are not even aware of the possibilities that are out there and many feel they are not even competent to avail those opportunities because of lack of exposure, innate fear, diffidence and inferiority that comes out of lack of communications skills in English.

Indians who are educated in English are more aware of opportunities than those who are educated in regional languages. Most school going kids in the interior regions of Telangana do not even know that there are provisions called ‘reservations’. Some of them have never heard of an entrance test called EAMCET which is the gateway to the engineering and medical schools of the region.

Loans, pensions, schemes, etc, are all available to those who are aware about it. Most government schemes do not ever reach the rural India because these people are not even aware that such schemes exist.

Hypocrite activists

The insistence on creating more schools based on the regional language as medium is another case of misplaced priorities ridden with hypocrisies. The politicians, the social activists, and ardent regionalists and nationalists, who fight for the regional language as medium of instruction, invariably send their kids to English medium kids. Almost every Kannada leader who keeps fighting for Kannada schools sends his/her kids to an English Medium schools, and sometimes to international schools in other countries.


While India continues to improve standard of living of its people, one of the quickest way to jumpstart the whole social movement is to use English as the medium of instruction. And all those who oppose such a move should send their kids to a school with regional language as medium of instruction to do their part.

Related Posts: Hindi is a North Indian Language, To Better India II: Primary Education.


  1. There should be three languages taught in our primary schools - English, Hindi and a Regional Language. Kids are like sponges, they learn languages so fast.

    Learning other foreign languages like Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese and German should also be encouraged in our schools. Particularly, Mandarin would be a must-have skill for our development in the future.

    China and Japan are good examples of how a local "common" base language helps in the development of a nation.

  2. The future of internet is not English only. English was the past. Local languages is the future. Mandarin would be the primary language of content. The distribution of all content would look like a "long tail" with English, Mandarin and Spanish at the top followed by a very very long tail of local languages.

    Internet enables all these local languages and we should push ourselves into the future instead of pulling ourselves to the colonial past. Let's stop driving looking at the rear view mirror. Look ahead!

    Use dotsub [an open-source subtitling tool] to translate and create regional language subtitles for english videos.

  3. Let's first feed some food and provide some pure drinking water to the downtrodden before pushing English down their throats.

  4. Nishtha:
    Let's first feed some food and provide some pure drinking water to the downtrodden before pushing English down their throats.

    And how do you propose you are going to feed them and give pure drinking water?

    Give it to them a freebies every year, and year on year?

    Or give them the necessary tools so that they can go and buy that food and water for themselves?

    You want to bring food and water to the poor while they continue to be poor, and I want to bring up the poor from their poverty so that they can go to the food and water!


  5. Global oneness and nishtha:

    I have two quick questions:
    What was the medium of instruction when you attended school?

    What is the medium of instruction at schools where you send your kids?

  6. I have to disagree with you here. In past few generations we have created an army of hodge-podge educated people. They can read and write in English, but cannot speak it. And they can speak their regional language but cannot read or write it.

    The point here is that speaking and reading/writing are two very different skills. You may be a postgraduate in English with a felicty for written English that surpasses native English speakers, yet you may find yourself at a loss for words in spoken language. At the same time, you may be very good in speaking your regional language, but may have tremendous difficulty in reading/writing it unless you have studied it in a structured manner.

    The net effect is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find people who can do all three - read, write and speak - either of the language properly. Sure they have an advantage in job market, but not sure if this semi-literacy is going to do any good in the long run.

  7. No clean water for those who do not speak English. Wow! You amaze me with your logic.

    How would a person who speaks in the local language be worse than a person who speaks in English when it comes to the access to water?

    What was the medium of instruction when you attended school?

    It was Hindi and I am proud of it.

    What is the medium of instruction at schools where you send your kids?

    It is primarily Spanish since I live in Mexico City and I really think Spanish is a very good language for the downtrodden because it has such rich literature for a population which had been at the bottom of the society.

  8. Vivek:

    I will ask few simple questions:

    What do rural people, downtrodden and lower caste want? If given a choice, do they want to send their kids to a telugu-medium school or an english-medium school?

    Is it our wish that they go to a telugu-medium schools or is it their wish?

    Where would you send your kids? Would you send them to an regional-language-medium school or an english-medium school?

  9. I went to a Hindi medium school and my kid (2 years old) watches Dora and Diego who you may know are not English cousins. Her first word was Hola! :)

  10. Nishtha:

    No clean water for those who do not speak English. Wow! You amaze me with your logic.

    I do not say that.

    You got it all wrong. I am not saying that you give water to people based on their English proficiency.

    What happened in the last fifty years? Why is economic progress not trickling down to the masses down there?

    Should we wait for it trickle down? Or do we bring them up closer so that they avail the opportunities?

    Why is it important to study subjects like Sciences, Economics, Geographies, Mathematics in one's regional languages?

    How many PhDs in India do we see from people who study in their regional languages? and compare it with those who study in English?

    Look at economic status in each government department, and see who are doing well off, and ask what was the medium of instruction?

    Go to Infosys and see how many of them have medium of instruction as English?

    Look around each town. Who are the ones who eventually prosper? Where are the opportunities?

    Why is that even the poor people who want to send their kids to schools try hard to send them to english-medium schools?

    It is about empowerment. Give the right skills. Eventually they will find their own food and water.

    Fifty years of India has not been able to provide them with that anyway.

  11. Nishtha:

    Good for you that you went to Hindi medium school.

    Good for you that your kid goes to a Spanish medium school - while living in Mexico.

    What about kids living in South India?

    What about their opportunities?

    Even the day-to-day business in a government organization runs in English. Every well-to-do officer in the government sends his kid to English-medium schools. So why different set of schools for the downtrodden?

  12. Once again, false pride on fake identities is messing the perception of Indians on the reality around them and what the future holds. It is English and will be English.

    I myself was educated in an English medium school and I feel immensely fortunate. I feel sorry for people who struggle to speak English. They have to suffer such a complex in this world. It is evident in their demeanour.

    Although my mother tongue has taken a severe beating, I intend to learn that separately and speak well. I also intend to pick up a foreign language too. But such intentions are more out of love and nostalgia than anything else. I do not expect these languages to be of any real value in surviving in the world.

    ~ Vinod

  13. Sujai,
    I fully agree with your view on making English as primary language. Political parties ensure that their sons & daughters are studying in English schools but prevent such opportunities for common man. Countries like Singapore has ensured that medium of instruction is English and at the same time protected regional languages like Tamil, Malay & chinese.

  14. Its amazing that there are people in this comments section typing away in English yet not accepting the obvious. English is here to stay and our primary government schools need to be equipped with a staff who are proficient in the language themselves. Right now the state of our governmnent schools are appalling. Many children are unable to read and write(regional languages as well as English) even upto standard six or seven, yet they are passed every year to show a good result.
    I had visited some government schools as part of a programme conducted by our college and I was shocked by the state of affairs there. Most of the children (around 60 per class) were talking and making a racket and the only class teacher there looked disinterested and indifferent. Practically no learning was going on and as these children were most likely first generation learners I don't think much(or for that matter any) learning was going on at home. It should be made mandatory that all the children of Ministers shoud study at government schools. Only then will they be interested in improving the state of our government schools.

  15. Oh, cmon leave the kids alone, there is already so much pressure on them.

    :: You're not anyone to make kids learn according to your whims & fancies....

  16. Well written article!



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