Who will bell the cat in Bihar when it comes to making English compulsory in secondary school examinations? Will English ever see a comeback in the state? Who will check the party politics? Are Biharis really opposed to English education?
Let us have a quick look at the history of Bihar and English education. It is Bihar, which gave birth to the first ever Indian author to write in English, Sheikh Dean Mohamed. He was born and brought up in Patna and made history in 1794 for his book 'Travels'.
The then educationally conscious Bihar established the first English School 1835.It was The Patna High School which later grew into Patna College in 1863. It is common knowledge that the two oldest recorded universities of the world -Nalanda University and Vikramshila University, existed in Bihar where people from around the world came to pursue higher education. The state to its credit has a galaxy of scholars and leaders who dominate the Indian as well as world history.
As of now Bihar is the only state where passing English in secondary school examinations is not compulsory unlike other subjects taken in the exam. It was 1967 when 'pass without English' was enacted and since then this has remained unchanged, irrespective of the change in governance in the state. It has more to do with party politics.
The masses loved that decision then, even though there were protests from educationists. Sadly enough, even in recent years, there has been no public demand for making English compulsory in the Bihar board examinations.
The products of the government-run schools have had to bear the brunt of Angareji hatao policy of the state government. However; the students belonging to well- to- do families have always preferred to equip themselves with English skills through private schools or tuitions. They have realized what a vital skill this is. But the destitute children have been unable to follow their example for an ostensible reason; this has led to a division within society.
Around five lakh of students in Bihar pass their Class 10th board examinations every year without having secured even the 30 per cent pass marks for English. That is because marks obtained in English are not added in the aggregate of the examinations and so have no impact on a student's division.
English-phobia in Bihar started more during RJD rule. The then government decided to carry on all its official communications in Hindi alone because of difficulties faced by officials in want of knowledge of English. Consequently, an entire generation of students in the state has been robbed of a vital skill.
However, the Nitish government has taken up the cudgel and started making corrections by taking an initiative like Spoken English Training to its School teachers and entrusting the training project to British Lingua. This is really a laudable step in ensuring that the bounties that English has to offer must percolate down through even the lower strata of society at large.
The teachers receiving the training were found to be very happy and enthusiastic about the programme. But they say their new found motivation may be weakened by the fact that English is not compulsory in the Board. The time has come to bring about a fundamental change in English education. A step in the right direction must be followed by the next step, or else the journey will be left unfinished. Will you wake up to the call?
Dr Birbal Jha is a noted author and Managing Director of Lingua Multiservices Pvt Ltd. He is credited as creating a revolution in English training in India with slogan ‘English for all’.
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