‘English medium schools may not benefit India’s poorest students’

PTI London | Updated on November 25, 2018 Published on November 25, 2018


Using English as medium of instruction for young and underprivileged children in India — especially those who speak a different language at home — may be holding them back from learning basic school skills, scientists claim.

Researchers are trying to decode why children do not enjoy the same cognitive and learning advantages seen in multilingual students in the West.

A four-year project, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Reading in the UK and project partners in Karnataka, Hyderabad and New Delhi, aims to find out why in a country where multilingualism is so common, the benefits and advantages of speaking more than one language do not apply.

According to Professor Ianthi Tsimpli from Cambridge University in the UK, the answers to this paradox may lie within the dataset she and her colleagues are compiling with the help of more than 1,000 primary-age schoolchildren across Delhi, Hyderabad and Bihar.

Two years into the project, the team has discovered considerable variation in the provision of education across government schools in the three areas, with different teaching practices and standards.

Possible reasons

Having tested all 1,000 children, they will now embark on retesting them, looking not only at test results, but also allowing for other variables such as the standard of schooling, the environment and the teaching practices themselves.

It is possible that one of the causes of low performance is the lack of pupil-centred teaching methods; instead, the teacher dominates and there is little room for independent learning.

Although the findings are at a preliminary stage, researchers have found that the medium of instruction used in schools, especially English, may hold back those children who have little familiarity with, or exposure to, the language before starting school and outside of school life.

“Most of the evidence from this and other projects shows that English instruction in very disadvantaged areas might not be the best way to start, at least in the first three years of primary,” said Tsimpli.

“What we would recommend for everyone, not just low socio-economic status children, would be to start learning in the language they feel comfortable learning in,” she said.

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Published on November 25, 2018
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