In Assam, the state cabinet’s decision to introduce English as the medium of instruction in science and mathematics in Class 3 in all government schools has led to heated debate.
The debate grew in political fervor as linguistic identity was the driving factor behind a strong sub-nationalism in the region.
On September 21, nine opposition parties announced a protest against the “anti-education” policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. The statement was joined by various parties, from the Congress and the Left to regional outfits such as Assam Jatiya Parishad and Asom Raijor Dal. The latter based their politics on the preservation of the Assamese identity and language.
On the same day, more than 20 cultural and civil society groups – including the Asam Sahitya Sabha, the state’s apex literary body, and the influential Assam Students Union as well as the All Bodo Sahitya Sabha and the All Bodo Students Union – was issued. In a joint press release, they said they would launch an uprising against them.
Early on September 19, the administration’s parliament was disrupted, and opposition leaders left after a debate on the topic. A week ago, the council adjourned for a short time on the day it convened for the opening of the autumn session, because the conference did not allow discussion on this topic.
The controversial decision was taken in July. The cabinet also decided that mathematics and science textbooks will be published in English during the academic year starting in July 2023. This decision applies to all government and state schools that normally use Assamese or Assamese languages. the states. State schools are institutions where the government has financial responsibility for salaries and other payments.
The cabinet also decided that all such schools from 8th to 12th grade should be dual-instructional. This gives the school authorities the option to introduce English as a medium of instruction along with the existing regional languages.
The opposition has opposed these new measures on the grounds that schools do not have the infrastructure to start teaching English and that it is against the national education policy. As of 2020, the policy recommends that “wherever possible”, the student’s mother tongue or local language should be the medium of instruction up to at least grade 5, if not grade 8.
“Worldwide studies and scholars say that only if you study the subjects in your own language will the concepts become clear,” Asam Sahitya Sabha president and former director of police Kuladhar Saikia told Scroll.in. “We protested against the move to change the media [of instruction] And we will continue to do so.”
Earlier, however, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma lashed out at Saikia, pointing out that both their sons studied in English medium schools. “We should not play with the lives of the poor,” Sarma said, referring to the fact that students from low-income families have no choice but to go to government schools.
The opposition to the government’s plan shows that the scars from the oral movement of the past are still fresh.
After many years of agitation, the government of Assam passed a law in 1960 recognizing Assamese as the official language of the state. This sparked a movement in the predominantly Bengali-speaking Barak Valley, which opposed the new law. After nine protesters were killed in 1961, the government withdrew the law.
That’s not all. In 1972, the All Assam Students Union started a movement to demand that Assamese be made the medium of instruction in state colleges. The same student union would lead the Assam Movement that began at the end of the decade, demanding the removal of the “sheena”, the majority Bengali-speaking population of the state. It would eventually lead to an armed movement for the Assamese state.
This time revived the old grievances.
“There have been Assamese language movements, Assamese should be the language of higher education,” said All Assam Students Union adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya. “We had a middle ground [of instruction] movement in 1972. People devoted themselves to the language movement. There were also movements and martyrs for Bodo as a language and medium of instruction. The government should respect the lives of the martyrs.”
According to him, the government took a “wrong and unscientific decision” as mother tongue was the most effective way of learning. “They should withdraw immediately,” Bhattacharya said.
‘The poor are burdened’
Others argue that the burden of preserving the language and culture should not be placed on children who attend public and regional schools who are often disadvantaged than those who have access to English-medium private schools.
“State bodies claim that introducing English as a medium of instruction in science and mathematics is damaging Axomiya culture,” said academic and rights activist Prasun Goswami. “Why shouldn’t marginalized children learn science and math in English and carry the baggage of ‘Axomiya Culture’? Elite private schools that educate children from privileged backgrounds continue to teach English and is a medium of instruction.”
He also pointed out that government schools in Assam offer only nine teaching methods but the state has more than 200 languages.
“Even now not all children learn their mother tongue,” he argued. “Strong basic skills using the mother tongue and a strong support system for teachers will help transition the learning process to English.”
‘Non-scientific’ teaching methods
Several scholars have criticized the government’s decision. According to Indranee Dutta, a member of the board of directors of the state board of higher education, the government’s decision was unscientific.
“ASHER [Annual Status of Education Report] “It has already proven that Assam students’ performance in mathematics and language is very low,” she said. “Can’t think and ask questions with his/her mouth, it will delay learning. The child’s cognitive area is very difficult, we shouldn’t play with it.”
She added that science and math were not just subjects to be taught – they were important knowledge for working in the world. “Mathematics is the knowledge of numbers for everyday use in logical analysis and reasoning,” Dutta said. “Science is an intellectual and practical activity to understand the natural world and society through observation and experimentation”
Narayan Sharma, the founder of Assam Jatiya Bidyalay – a school established to promote Assamese education – was also important.
“Besides knowing your culture and history, learning your mother tongue allows you to contribute to the enrichment of literature in your mother tongue,” he said. “If mother tongues are removed from educational institutions then students will lose real education and lose interest in their culture and literature.”
Sharma pointed out that many languages have already become extinct. “If it continues like this, we are all worried that Assamese, Bodo and other languages may also become extinct,” he said.