Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trust your Language, says Hywel Coleman

This is for those who think they can't climb the social ladder without the knowlege of English language

Ask any upwardly-mobile Indian what he dreams for his child and the answer would be, “Education in an English medium school.” Many parents think that education in English will ensure better job prospects for their children, and thus offer economic stability and social status. However, Hywel Coleman, who has edited the book, Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language, published by the British Council, says the findings indicate that studying the English language does not necessarily lead to development and progress.
Coleman, who was in Pune recently for a tête-à-tête over this compilation of 16 papers on the English language, says the dream of achieving success by learning English is not guided by reality. Hence the words ‘dreams’ and ‘realities’ in the title. Fifteen countries — six in Asia (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and nine in Africa (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawai, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia) — were surveyed for this 386-page book.
Coleman, a Life Fellow of the University of Leeds, who is based in Indonesia, says that development cannot confine itself to economic progress. Health, education, and access to water and electricity should also be included in it. In this context, one wonders about the role and effectiveness of English in villages. “How can English help in reducing infant or maternal mortality rate? Wouldn’t mid-wives communicate more effectively with the would-be mothers in the local language instead of English?” he questions.
He admits that the English language plays a role in the economic development of a country, but it’s a limited one. He supports his argument by giving the example of booming economies of Japan, China and Korea, “where it’s not easy to find people who speak English.” Jamaicans, adds Coleman, speak only in English, but has anyone ever discussed the impact of their economy at the global level?
When told that speaking in fluent English is a prerequisite for securing jobs in India, Coleman replies that such advertisements work as an automatic filter for the recruitment agencies. “People who are not confident of their English-speaking abilities feel that the job isn’t for them.” Coleman points out that diffident English speakers — be it teachers or children — restrict their powers of expression and comprehension.
He adds that children who know the answers, but are afraid of speaking incorrect English don’t raise their hands in the class. If the children learn in their mother tongue or the local language, they would progress much better in schools.
He concludes on the note that the local languages and dialects have much to offer, and people should be proud of speaking in them. Of course, that doesn’t mean you close your mind against learning English.

A gifted reader

This is a story of Ajit Kunte, a cerebral palsy patient. He was quite fun and cheerful to talk to. I met him at the Ninth Pulotsav Tarunai festival.
His unaffected manners and cheerful demeanour succeed in taking attention away from his fists that are curled around crutches, which help him get up and walk a little unsteadily towards a chair — from where he reads out a story from Pu La Deshpande’s Maza Shatrupaksha. The occasion was the ninth ‘Pulotsav Tarunai’ held in memory of noted Marathi humourist, Pu La Deshpande, popularly known as Pu La.
Twentyfive-year-old Ajit Kunte, who was struck by cerebral palsy at birth, has overcome his disability to memorise and speak clearly. After a series of operations, Ajit regained control over his limbs and vision.
His love for the written word stems from when his parents used to read out books to him as a child. They would also play recordings of stories by Marathi writers like Pu La, V P Kale and D M Mirasdar, which further triggered his interest in reading.
Ask Ajit what his favourite story is and pat comes the reply, “Antu Barva by Pu La.” It’s only recently that Ajit has started participating in Katha-Kathan (story-telling) programmes.
My first Katha-Kathan programme was at Va Pu Kale Smriti Pratishthan in 2007, where I won the jury’s award. The next year, I bagged the third prize in the same competition, and in 2010, I won the first prize,” beams Ajit.
His mother, Madhavi, who had approached the organisers with a request to allow Ajit to participate in the competition, says, “I don’t expect Ajit to win. I just want him to gain exposure and mingle among people.”
Therefore, Ajit participates in several competitions that encourage reading and retelling of stories. The youngster who was diagnosed as mentally retarded at birth, has a keen ear for music besides reading. He can spend hours listening to songs and poring over books. Of course, he requires more time to finish reading books, but that doesn’t deter him from picking up big tomes. At present, he is fascinated by Balasaheb Purandare’s works on Shivaji.
Ajit’s parents, who are visibly proud of him, fuss over him without being overprotective. In fact, it’s very important for them that Ajit leads an independent life. They are helping him prepare for the SSC examination through the National Institute of Open Schooling. He has studied till standard VI in a special school.
Ajit travels alone to and fro in an autorickshaw to the plastic moulding workshop in Shivajinagar where he works. He has also learnt how to use the computer and cellphone. Moreover, he puts those around him completely at ease with his relaxed and positive attitude towards life.