A few weeks back, Pratap Bhanu Mehta had an interesting article in the Indian Express where he points out how the politicization of the debate about language of instruction in our schools is really hurting both, our education, as well as our languages.
Here are a few excerpts from his article:
Because of linguistic politics, the emphasis in teaching has been more on differentiation than on finding commonalities. Learning a language has, paradoxically, been seen more as creating a barrier than building a bridge. The divide is very palpable, for example, in the pedagogic evolution of Hindi and Urdu; modern Hindi teachers in Delhi’s most progressive schools take expunging “Urdu” words to absurd lengths.
But a little more imagination could bridge other divides: a little teaching of one or two more scripts for example, could make a Hindi speaker more functional in at least a couple of other regional languages. Two different stalwarts of Hindi literature, Shivani and Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, could find a home more easily in Shantiniketan than in Benares, in a way that now seems unimaginable. But the obstacles to a more polyglot linguistic imagination are not pedagogical, they are political.
pedagogic choices in Hindi have been constricted by identity and purity concerns, not the growth of the language
if you want to see what is wrong with Hindi, just see the typical CBSE or ICSE syllabus. It is not clear, first of all, whether this syllabus was designed to excite kids about the possibilities of the language or whether it was designed by a group of morose social reformers who thought the Hindi syllabus was occasion to be earnest, boring and identify all the ills of Indian society.
The full article covers a lot of other ground, and is worth reading if this is an area that interests you.
Oxfam Blogs has an extremely interesting article that compares the rise of Somaliland vs. the fall of its neighbor Somalia, and points out how this completely upends conventional wisdom regarding foreign aid and other aspects of building a country.
And the aspect I found most interesting there related to education. The paper points out that elite education, available to only a selected few, was found to be more important than universal elementary education – at least in terms of providing the next generation of leadership for the country:
The paper highlights the critical political importance of elite secondary schools in forging leadership. Available to a relatively small group of often privileged Somalilanders, this is in stark contrast to the donor emphasis on universal primary education. In particular, many of Phillips’ interviews led to the Sheekh Secondary School, set up by Richard Darlington, who fought in WWII as the commander of the Somaliland Protectorate contingent. Sheekh took only 50 kids a year and trained them in leadership, critical thought and standard (Darlington borrowed from the curriculum of his old school, Harrow). Sheekh provided 3 out of 4 presidents, plus any number of vice presidents, cabinet members etc. And no it isn’t a weird Somaliland version of Eton and Harrow (I asked) – it stressed student intake from all clans, especially from the more marginalized ones.
Compare and contrast this with what Clay Shirky said a few days ago – that maybe the way forward for higher education is to provide the lower quality of education to a larger number of people at lower cost. Of course Shirky was talking about US, a developed country, while Oxfam is talking about Somaliland, a poor underdeveloped African country, so the situations are quite different. And I certainly don’t claim to know which approach is better. (And I’m sure that the correct answers lies in saying, we should do both.)
But, it is interesting food for thought. If you were forced to pick just one for India going forward, what would you pick – great schools that provide world class education for a few, or universal literacy?
Read the full article.