English: Achilles’ heel of our Education

David Walker, British High Commissioner in Bangladesh said there is no alternative of English for world interaction in a seminar on teaching and learning English arranged jointly by English Language Teaching Improvement Project (ELTP), Bangladesh Text Book Board and British Council. Also, he claimed that teaching English should not be considered as a colonial attack. First, I would like to focus on the Annals of Indian Society to evaluate the veracity of his statement on the point ‘colonial attack’.

In 1835 when English was accepted as the medium of teaching and learning, many British high colonial officials opposed the issue. Urged on by the Bengalis proficient in English and supported by Mr. Maclay, Lord Bantique consented to it. The Plebs thought the introduction of English as the medium of education was a colonial kidding and a contrivance to make them subservient to the English. The colonials imposed English on the students to learn as they needed peons to pursue the colonial rule. But the fact remained that the colonials were malicious towards Indians proficient in English. Even they did not hesitate to insult Bangalees (Bengali people) gratuitously who learnt English. If my readers have read ‘The Autobiography of Muchiram Gurer Jibancharit written by Bankim Chandra, hopefully, you are intimated with Muchiram Gur who managed his job by kidding the collector Mr. Home. Home’s address to the English- neophyte applicant for the job showed his malice towards them. He said “I dare say you are well up in Shakespeare and Milton and Bacon and So forth. Unfortunately, we don’t want quotations from Shakespeare and Milton and Bacon in this office. It is not the most learned man who is best fitted for this kind of work.” The Indians ignorant of English and European history were admired by the lords of colonials. Their admiration for Maharaja General Sir Partab Singh exemplifies the fact. Lady Minto was also affectionate towards him for his typical English. Once Sir Singh went to England. He expressed his feeling for England to a respectable woman saying “Lekin, Lady, I every time happy this England. Horses gentlemen, ladies gentlemen and grasses gentlemen’. Once Lord Curzon and his wife rode on an elephant going to Delhi Durbar on the occasion of the Edward the VII inauguration. It seemed bad to him and he grieved at it saying “You eating knife and fork I eating knife and fork. I not knowing this knife and fork. Great Mogul he knowing how mount this elephant. You not knowing. You sitting howdah in uniform with English lady. Great Mogul he mounted properly, he dressed in white muslin and squat by himself on elephant’s back. You sitting howdah, we laughing. You not knowing.”

People proficient in English received more respect than others adept in Bengali or Sanskrit. They came to light in society and were called educated. If one knew English well, he was admired by the society. The consequences of learning English expressed in Bangalis’ (Bengali people’s) spiritual and material world. There was no means to be established without good English. Teenage children used to read English literature. Some people admonished those bookworms. Some body wrote-“The partiality of young Bengal for an English education has been much traduced. Why on earth is he so wedded to English books? Why does he not read the Vedas, Puranas and Itihases”? He answered himself -‘Those who condemn him on this account forget conveniently that whatever he has been able to achieve has been achieved by his English education only. The dry bones of oriental literature would not have raised either the morality or the life of the nation’.

According to the Census of 1911, in India, the number of English learned people was 1,670,387 and service holders under British colonial government was 270,278. Among the service holders, all chases of employees were included. If so, why the rest of the people learnt English. The main function of language is to act as a medium of interaction between human beings. Present India has many provinces and each province has its native language i.e. own dialect. So a person needs to learn another language to interact with other people. And English become his first choice. So, Indians practice speaking in English in real life situation. Bangladesh is a penurious country. She is not at all economically sound and needs subvention from other developed countries. So people who wish to go abroad for education or job need to be skilled in English. Even, in the country, who are engaged in jobs where they need to interact with foreigners surely need to be competent in English. Thus many people need English in their everyday life.

Bengali is our mother tongue. Language movement is a glorious event in our life. Bengali was a legacy of a stream of blood. February is here with grand colour and admiration. But we should learn English as developing-track. Though we were Vouchsafed English medium education by the colonials, unfortunately, we have been throwing a tantrum at it for last two decades. Improving an education system by English does not mean at all to dishonour one’s vernacular. I think it is rather an innocent deception when an applicant for a job is not considered eligible for the post by the interviewers because of his poor ability of speaking in English. It is one kind of hypocrisy. On the other hand Japanese and Chinese do not learn English because both Japan and China have very sound economy.

In the educational institutions of the country, students are hardly taught English. There is a paucity of English medium schools and colleges where students are taught English systematically. Moreover, not all people can afford those educational institutions for the offspring. So they cannot break the vicious circle of poverty. To keep abreast with the time, schools and colleges should phase English in the medium of education. Hence the educational institutions require teachers proficient in English. It is heartening that government has taken myriad measures to make competent teachers and improved education, but I still think that they are not sufficient and pragmatic. English is an Achilles’ heel of our education. Government, teachers, guardians and students should come forward to salvage the situation. Hopefully, the movement will be saluted by all informed citizens.