The number of students in Marathi- and Konkani-medium primary schools in 2016-17 has something to cheer for the champions of primary education in mother tongues. Over 37,200 students are in regional language primary schools – 31,037 in Marathi-medium schools and 6,208 in Konkani-medium schools – a number which is higher than the number of students (31,800) in government-aided 135 English-medium primary schools. Official figures indicate that the number of students enrolled in primary schools imparting education in regional languages has been increasing over the years – owing partly to government special grant of Rs 400 per student per month and partly to the promotion by regional language champions. One unaided English-medium primary school has opted for change to Konkani medium, which should bring further joy to regional language champions.
The government and the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM), the spearhead of the regional language champions, need to work harder to raise enrolment in regional language schools. At the same time they must work to improve the quality of education in regional languages. If the curriculum and teaching in regional languages have good quality it will motivate parents to send their children to primary schools imparting education in local languages. As parents want their children to excel in life for which early education plays an important role, they would not mind to get their children admitted to schools which offer excellent curriculum to help the children to learn and grow, even if it means studying in local languages. The ideal situation would be for the education authorities to make the curriculum and teaching useful, progress-oriented and attractive in all forms of primary education and leave it for the parents to decide on the medium in which their children should study.
The success of leaders, academicians, scientists and others who studied in regional language primary schools is proof enough that it is not necessary that children have to study in English-medium schools to get jobs and rise in a profession. What is important is the quality of education at all levels, be it primary level or at the secondary and higher levels. Studying in English is seen by some parents as something that would facilitate their children’s passage to higher education. Those admitted to primary schools imparting education in local languages should be educated to be able to adapt to change in medium as they progress to higher classes. This would drive away the fear from the minds of parents about the ability of their children to adapt to studies in English medium in higher classes. The language champions could play an important role in this endeavour by making the government ensure that the curriculum at the primary level was at par in all languages and progress-oriented. Rather than adopting a confrontationist approach on the issue of providing grants to English-medium primary schools, the BBSM should change its strategy to ensure that the quality of education in local languages was taken to a level equal to, if not higher than, that in the English-medium primary schools. This would help not only to protect local languages but also Goan identity and culture.
The government must bring the warring organisations, the BBSM and the FORCE (Forum for Rights of Children to Education) to an amicable solution and play its role as facilitator of quality education, which could help Goans not lose on career opportunities in any field because of language. A little give and take on the part of the two organisations could help the government arrive at a consensual decision. The organizations should bear in mind that their rigid stand could create a vertical division in Goan society, which should be avoided by the either party at all costs. The champions of regional languages as media of instruction have to keep in mind that education in English language would not lead to erosion of Goan ethos or dilute its language and culture as they are deep-rooted. History is testimony to the fact that despite hundreds of years of Portuguese rule, Goan language (Konkani) and its ethos could neither be diluted nor was its culture and identity destroyed.
As they seek to protect and preserve Goa ethos and culture through local languages the partisans of English or regional languages as media of instruction must not allow any damage to the age-old tradition of people of different religions and sub-cultures living peacefully and in harmony. Rather than imposing a language, the quality of education should be raised with an enthusiastic and competitive spirit in the regional language medium schools. Good books, good teaching methods, high standards and space for both regional languages and English with the future of children in view are what the two organizations and the government should be striving for.