Does the medium matter?

Can an applicant for the post of Assamese teacher in a school in Assam be turned away because he or she happened to complete schooling in Assamese medium? It is an ominous portent that such a question should at all be asked in this State. State Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has tied himself up into knots over this issue, which has arisen from a recent advertisement for Special Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) for graduate teachers in Adarsh Vidyalayas in Assam. All intending candidates were asked to note that they ‘must be passed from English medium schools as Adarsh Vidyalayas are CBSE affiliated English medium schools’. Along with posts of graduate teacher and Hindi teacher, this stipulation was also applicable for posts of Classical Teacher (Assamese Language). Unsurprisingly, this advertisement caused much heartburn among prospective Assamese medium applicants who found the door slammed hard on their faces. Now here is a question any impartial observer will ask — is it reasonable to expect applicants for classical teacher (Assamese) posts, having majored in Assamese with minimum 50 percent marks in graduation, to have done their schooling in English medium? There may be a slight probability, but it is not very likely! Rather, it is more likely that anyone good enough to be selected as a teacher of Assamese language, would have had a very thorough grounding in Assamese from primary school level onwards. The Education Minister, in characteristic fashion, then added fuel to the fire by asking in a press meet as to how can teachers schooled in Assamese medium be expected to teach in English medium schools. As AASU, KMSS, the Congress party and various other organisations took serious issue over the Education Minister’s comments, the government brought out another advertisement dropping the mandatory English medium eligibility criteria. But the damage has been done. This controversy is but the latest in a series of developments sowing doubts in the public mind as to what this government intends to do with vernacular medium schools. Education Minister Sarma may in all fairness publicly criticize the marking policy and working of State Class X board and Plus II council. But the CBSE is not infallible either, as shown in the eleventh hour confusion over scrapping of marks moderation this year and numerous complaints about marksheet anomalies. 
The more serious question begging our attention is whether it is at all acceptable to differentiate between English and vernacular medium students, and hermetically seal off one from the other. This State has been excellently served by a galaxy of luminaries in different fields, all of them schooled in Assamese medium. Then there are those who imbibed their first lessons here in mother tongue, and are representing their State outside with distinction. Truth be told — the contention that Assamese medium products are not comfortable with English — is an entirely artificial, if not mischievous, construct. It carries the whiff of yet more pernicious politics over the medium of instruction. There is no way such politics can be entertained by right thinking people, because on the ground, it has already begun to create a mental block, an inferiority complex rather, among a section of vernacular medium students. It is the need of the hour to make them confident about their grounding in mother tongue and facility with other languages including English. In fact, the 3-language formula can and should be leveraged with such an aim in mind. Instead, we have the Education Department creating needless controversy with thoughtless stipulations that do injustice to vernacular medium students. However, some observers maintain that there is a sinister pattern to such developments. They point out that the present ruling dispensation at the Centre has stopped funding Adarsh Vidyalayas; the onus is entirely on State governments to keep these model schools running. So, if a State government is forking out public money to keep Adarsh Vidyalayas operational, there ought to be nothing to stop it from keeping the State language as medium of instruction. Does the present Assam government, with all its promises of protecting indigenous identities — have the will to back vernacular medium schools? Let us not forget that some public-spirited individuals had to file a PIL in Gauhati High Court to ensure that — amidst the tearing hurry to adopt the NCERT model in toto — school students here get to read about their State in their curriculum. A similar misadventure by Education planners now against vernacular medium should be contested vigorously by stakeholders.

Published by The sentinel

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