October 2003 News

In The Valley, More Students Join English Medium

5 October 2003
The Times of India

Srinagar: A year after the state government decided to have English taught in government schools from the elementary level, enrolment is already up by nearly a tenth. It is a statistic noted with satisfaction by minister for education Harshdev Singh. It was, he said, a component in the plan to have all children literate within a decade, if not earlier. A lot more trained and motivated staff is needed and the minister says there's no shortage of money for hiring. The normal primary school of the state has just a couple of teachers; sanction for a third has come. Around 4,000 have been hired in the past six months, he says. The plan is to have such a school within a km of everyone, with enough facilities. A faster method may be to take a leaf from the new Ladakh Hill Development Council, which has been granted autonomy in the matter. To begin, the Council has made English the medium of teaching from the primary level and downgraded several secondary schools as part of its plan to revamp the education system. Thupstan Chhewang, the Council's chief executive, says good Ladakhi-medium teachers are hard to come by and students find it hard to pick up English from the eighth form. 'The Ladakhi- medium education limited the scope for our youth. With English- medium, they now are better equipped and more inclined to pursue higher education and job opportunities outside the region.' Chhewang says downgrading of several secondary schools into primary helped in optimisation of teachers' strength. 'We followed the hub-and-spoke principle. Primary schools in the remotest village; from where students would move to residential high schools at key locations like Leh, Nubra and Nyoma,' he said. Simultaneously, posting norms for teachers were also rejigged, with incentives like a tenure in or close to Leh, after a three-year stint at a remote school. For this, the 300 schools in the region were categorised into A, B and C slots, depending on their location away from Leh. Chhewang credits the plan's success to people's participation and efforts by Secmol, a non-government organisation. 'No administrative effort can succeed to bring about change without community participation.' These are points the Srinagar bureaucracy would do well to ponder. A stress on basic skills, with the aim of equipping children to compete with English-speaking ones elsewhere, with the community enabled to feel part of the process is something the state needs and hasn't much experience of.


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