India’s Economic Restructuring with English: Benefits versus Costs
In the last decade of the 20th century, India’s pursuit of a free-market economy led to changes in its language policies in education. These changes have been aimed at enhancing the skills of India’s citizens through education that is adapted to the needs of the market economy. The key to skill enhancement is English, which is needed for communication in business environments and for accessing knowledge usable in the new economy. National integration, the staple of education policy in most postcolonial countries, is predicated on market integration within India and with the world. English is taken to be indispensable for this integration. Popular perception is that English is crucial to the material lives of the people, owing to the importance of English in the competitive market economy. This perception, fueled by the promise of instant reward through English, has made it easy for the government to compromise on its previously stated policy of replacing English with Indian languages in all domains, including education. As in the economy, the commanding role of the government in education is being turned over to the market, which finds the product of English easy to sell for profit as well as for creating the labor force it needs. The seeming convergence of the interests of the people, the government, and the market, however, hides the falsity of the promise of English. In fact, the scarcity of human resources to teach English from the beginning of the educational process and the absence of suitable pedagogy for the multiple backgrounds and needs of the learners of English are evidence of the falsity of this promise. The results of the new language policy in education are sidetracking of the public policy commitment to cultural plurality and enrichment predicated on Indian languages, the need for a variable curriculum and pedagogy for teaching English, and shortchanging of the hopes of millions of first-generation learners,
who have no realistic chance of accessing high-quality education through English. This chapter presents the hidden social cost of the spread of Englishmedium education in India.