Published: 13th July 2021
Teachers, academics explain why Karnataka is the only Southern state where students prefer Kannada medium learning
Surprisingly, Tamil Nadu has seen a huge drop in students preferring Tamil over English. Less than 30 per cent of students chose Telugu and around 34.8 per cent chose to study in Malayalam medium
Recently, the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) released a report that Karnataka is the only state in South India where the state's official language, Kannada, is preferred over English as a medium of instruction. This report was from the data collected during the year 2019-20. With 53.5 per cent of students preferring Kannada as a medium of instruction, Karnataka stands first among all the other South Indian states. The state stands second in the country, next only to West Bengal, where 89.9 per cent of students prefer to be enrolled in Bengali medium schools.
Surprisingly, Tamil Nadu has seen a huge drop in students preferring Tamil over English. Less than 30 per cent of students chose Telugu over English and around 34.8 per cent chose to study in Malayalam-medium schools. To understand why Karnataka alone had bucked the trend, we asked teachers working in government and private schools why children in Karnataka were opting for Kannada as a medium of instruction.
K Rajappa, who has been a teacher for 30 years at the Vimanpore Government High School in Bengaluru, says, "There are many people who prefer to study in Kannada medium or choose that language as a medium of instruction. And why not choose our regional language when many personalities like U R Rao and D V Gundappa have also studied Kannada and achieved so much in their lives. Though English is a global language and students may choose to study it, we must always make Kannada a preference or first language in all the schools. If parents can afford to buy one English newspaper a day, then they can buy one Kannada newspaper too."
However, there are teachers in the government schools in Karnataka who say that children in their schools too need to focus and learn English efficiently. To this end, Veeranna Madiwalar, who works in a government school in Gadag's Raibag has been working to build an English lab in his school. He explains, "It has been scientifically proven that the five sensory organs develop when we study and learn in our mother tongue. Though Kannada must be a medium of instruction in schools, English must be taught efficiently to children. Learning a language must not be mechanical and it should have experiential learning. Even during exams, we mark children on the basis of poems and lessons they learn. But it is the wrong method. We must mark children on the basis of their reading and speaking capability of a particular language."
And teaching needs to evolve to remain relevant. He further adds, "Unlike older teaching methods, languages must be taught through audio and visual aids. A basic course to teach phonics in English is available for as little as Rs 300. If we connect it to a speaker and play it, then both teachers and students will learn from it. While teaching children in regional language is important, English must be given equal and due importance otherwise our children will lag behind when it comes to competing with other kids at the national and international level. Currently, the government has implemented a Nali-Kali programme in English in 1000 schools. But it is time that they expand this to other schools across the state."
Shivananda Hombal, Founder of the Dhwani Trust, a non-profit that has earlier worked with two English medium schools for more than 15 years, shares his experience about bringing kids back to their mother tongue in interesting ways, "In English medium schools, we know that children don't have any interest in learning Kannada. Hence, I started with a wide range of experiments to rekindle interest in them to learn Kannada. I took time out and wrote small Kannada plays and made children enact them on the school stage. From then onwards, Kannada classes for them went beyond learning lessons from the textbooks. Later, a few government officials asked me to train government school teachers so that kids can be taught well."
Commenting on the findings in the report, Shivananda says, "As per the report, around 53.5 per cent prefer Kannada. But what about the remaining 47 per cent? Do these children prefer English as a medium of instruction? It doesn't matter whether you take English or Kannada as a medium of instruction. Let's not politicise the language part when it comes to education of children. Quality education is not being imparted in Kannada or English medium schools. It is a myth among people that teaching in English makes the children smarter and vice versa for Kannada too. Getting access to creative, strong and efficient education or learning is every child's right."
But how do we provide such an education to kids? Is it possible only if they read those textbooks? For this, Shivananda says, "Unlike English, we have fewer reference books and material in regional languages, this is not only restricted to Kannada.Where English medium students easily access books such as the Encyclopedia Britannica, Jigsaw Jones, Nate the Great and many more, we don't have any such books in Kannada, which is very sad. We have limited the fight for our languages only to protests, politics and fights."
There are many benefits to learning with the regional language as a medium of instruction over English, claims Kotresh Menasinkai, a teacher at one of the unaided high schools in Gadag. He says, "Parents don't understand the learning loss that children go through when they are instructed or taught only in English. Isn't it a mechanical way of teaching? I feel like it is playing a casette in a tape recorder and asking the children to repeat the same. I am happy if these kids are taught proper English. Unfortunately some teachers read the English content but deliver its meaning in Kannada. Now, that leads children to learn and speak Kanglish. Another reason why many schools and their children prefer Kannada over English is the DEd and BEd training centres for teachers. There are only five to six centres that train teachers to teach children in English. A lot of these centres train teachers in Kannada and even subjects like Science or Maths are taught in Kannada to these teachers. Though they might have studied BSc in English medium, their medium will change once they attend the training."