India needs English education for all

July 1, 2009

Education is the way out of economic backwardness for India’s large number of poor. Needless to say access to capital at reasonable rates, subsidies, health and other services are as important.

In this post my focus is on education. A number of state governments are enforcing state vernacular languages as the medium of education with scant regard to the relevance of this education in the job market.

They forget that India would not have emerged as an outsourcing hub but for a quirk of history, the decision by the British to introduce English as the language of education in the country.

We should be equally concerned about protecting our local culture and language. The McHomogenization of Indian culture is not at all desirable. But the classroom may not be the place for the protection of culture at this stage of India’s economic development.

The Wall Street Journal in this article has argued that the denial of English education to the masses is in a sense a form of domination, to keep the people subjugated.

“In fact, much of the political class remains opposed to English medium education supposedly because they fear the loss of local culture and language,” WSJ writes. It’s more believable that it’s because an ill-equipped population of voters is a malleable population of voters,” it added.

In the state of Goa in western India, a majority of the people backed Konkani as the mother tongue of the state, because it was the language spoken by most people But when it came down to the implementation of the language as a medium of education, parents fought back in favor of English.

They had by then realized that the official language issue had helped Konkani protagonists to perpetutate their roles as culture czars and educationists.

These protagonists re-wrote the language in the name of standardization, and expected children to learn a language that was by now quite different from what they had been used to speak at home. The script was also different.

Clearly there is a need to separate the politics of language from the relevance of a particular language in the new economic scheme of things. The education system, whether we like it or not, is geared to producing people suitable for employment in our factories and offices.

A few of us may have some discomfort about this mechanistic and production oriented metaphor of education. But to India’s poor, this is right now probably the only education that is relevant.

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Wikipedia blocked again in China

September 6, 2007

Wikipedia’s English site has been again blocked in China, in an ongoing saga which has seen this site frequently blocked by the Chinese government.

Read here Wikipedia’s account of the frequent blocks of its site in the country.

The Chinese government frequently blocks sites with information that the regime considers controversial, such as the Falun Gong religious cult and independence for Taiwan and Tibet, according to a report by the IDG News Service in ComputerworldUK. The current blocking may be related to the upcoming Communist Party Congress, which begins Oct. 15 in Beijing, IDG said Thursday.

Wikipedia holds that its site has been blocked since Aug 31, though IDG quotes users saying that the latest block fell into place this week.

While Wikipedia’s English site is occasionally available, its Chinese-language sites are almost permanently blocked, IDG News Service added.

The online community developed encylopedia has been suffering both from censorship by governments, and by attempts by companies and people to embellish references to them in Wikipedia. Its credibility was challenged by recent disclosures that the site has been frequently edited by self-serving interests including companies modifying write-ups on themselves.

Getting listed on Wikipedia has emerged as a new sign of having arrived in your field. The provision for easy addition of entries has ensured that a number of people have created write-ups on friends and family. Very often these folks would not figure by a stretch on an administered encylopedia like the Brittanica. Wikipedia, of course, holds that its technology allows others to make changes and add to Wikipedia content, a provision that is part of its community focus, which is at times misused.