Bilingualism in Andhra Pradesh by Nidadavolu Malathi

After my story, Bilingual Kid, had been published on thulika.net, I received comments from young Telugu youth  stating that the situation in English medium schools in Andhra Pradesh was just as bad.

And, here in America, some of the professors in my college pointed out to me the English teaching methods/policies put in place in America in the early nineteen hundreds. That made me think and examine the topic further. To my surprise, the information I found was shocking.

The BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] started schools to teach [American] Indian children with the sole purpose of “civilizing” and “assimilation” of the children of the native tribes [American Indians] into the white world. Simply stated, it was meant to make young American Indian children to accept the white men’s beliefs and value systems. Their stated policies included uniforms appropriate for the white men’s world and punishing children who spoke their native tongues [emphasis mine]. See  http://www.aiefprograms.org/history_facts/history.html for complete text.

The similarities are strikingly obvious. However, the difference is even more appalling: In America, the above dissension was between two races, the white America and the native Indians [American Indians]. In Andhra Pradesh, it is just one race—the Andhras. The imposition of English in Andhra Pradesh schools is not from outside. To me, that seems unconscionable!

In June 2001, I commented on the sorry state of or rather lack of Telugu language skills among today’s youth. In response, V.V.S. Sarma, Bangalore, sent me an 8-page article, pointing out that the problem lay in the poorly written, elementary school textbooks. During my recent trips to Andhra Pradesh, I have noticed Americanization in every aspect—the children’s toys,  education, attitudes, clothing, electronics, aspirations, pursuits, careers, not to mention the language, which is a curious mix of Telugu with heavily accented Indian  English and so on.

Until now I was priding myself on the fact that in my country even the illiterate could speak two or three languages at functional level. It appears the situation is strangely different now. The illiterate still could speak two or three languages while the children in schools are being taught to speak only one language and that is English!

During my Intermediate years [first two years of college at the time] I opted to learn Sanskrit. The teacher was a traditional scholar but not educated in English. Therefore, he taught us the Sanskrit language in Telugu. However, English was the medium of instruction and as such, we were required to write the exam in English. In other words, the language I was learning was Sanskrit, the medium in which we were taught Sanskrit was Telugu, and our expertise in Sanskrit was tested in English! And, none of us questioned the propriety of this system, nor were we outraged, much less complained. Today I am glad I took that class and happy I know al least a little Sanskrit.

Having said that, let me refer back to the article on BIA schools. The Bureau and the parents eventually realized that it would not work and decided to revise their policy. In 1926, the Merriam Report’s recommendations included among several others:

  • Do away with “The Uniform Course of Study,” which stressed only the cultural values of whites.
  • The Indian Service must provide youth and parents with tools to adapt to both the white and Indian world.

“The Depression had finally benefited Indian people, not because of their unique plight, but because they were at last a part of a national plight. … Indian education should be rooted in the community and should stress the values of native culture,” commented the author. “Children learned through the medium of their own cultural values while becoming aware of the values of white civilization. …  [American] Indian schools introduced Indian history, art and language,” he further elaborated.

My question is what does it take for the school administrators, parents, the elite and the government of Andhra Pradesh to realize that they can teach children the English language along with their mother tongue Telugu, which is also state’s official language, and not to the exclusion of ?

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REFERENCES:

American Indian Education Foundation. “History of Indian Education in the US.” http://www.aiefprograms.org/history_facts/history.html. Downloaded 2/22/2003.

Reese, Debbie, et.al. Fiction Posing as Truth. Rethinking Our Classrooms.A Critical Review of Ann Rinnaldi’s My Heart is On the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl. www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/13_04/review.shtml. Downloaded 2/20/2002.