10/13/2006, 00.00
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Karnataka split over mandatory early English teaching

A state law bans early English teaching. For this reason the state government had recently decertified many schools. It has now changed its mind but not without causing protests.

Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Karnataka state government has changed its mind. Teaching English is necessary in primary school to offer the poor better employment chances. However, the plan to make early English teaching mandatory has infuriated language activists who want to promote the native Kannada language.

In the state Kannada is spoken by about 50 million people and since 1994 a law has banned teaching children up to the age of 11 in any language other than the mother tongue.

After several warnings and threats the education department decertified some 2,000 schools for failing to uphold the law. But the authorities now seem to have changed their mind. The government in fact announced that English will be mandatory from the age of six.

Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy said that whilst Kannada should be encouraged at all levels, rural children should not be deprived of better employment opportunities for lack of English.

The move has split local scholars and literati. Led by the Kannada Literary Council, some scholars have called on the government to overturn its decision which in their view threatens the "mother tongue". Some activists have called for boycotting state-organised cultural events.

Other writers have however come out in support of the government. "While English is a tool of mobility for urban, upper middle-class children, the lack of English knowledge is a handicap for rural Dalit children," said Dalit writer K Marulasiddappa.

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