Bangalore: Kannada-medium private schools have to carry their fight longer to be able to switch to English. The schools are caught between a bureaucracy that last month gave them the go-ahead and an education minister, who insists on the local language, Kannada, being the medium of instruction.
Last week, the Karnataka Unaided Schools Managements’ Association, or Kusma, the organization spearheading the cause of 1,000-plus private schools, wrote to the state’s primary and secondary education minister, Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri, seeking permission to teach in English and threatening a contempt of court case against the state government if it was denied.
Karnataka is the only state in the country to impose the local language as the medium of instruction in private schools, much to the distress of parents, many of whom want their children to be taught in English, perceived as a gateway to progress in life and career.
Language is a highly sensitive political issue in the state, as elsewhere in India, with Karnataka declaring 2009 as “Kannada Implementation Year”. The year will see state enforcement of Kannada in administration and public life. There are plans to introduce a Rs10,000 fine on anyone installing a signboard without local-language content.
Mint had reported on 31 December that the education department had given the go-ahead for conversion to English following a meeting between G. Kumar Naik, commissioner for public instruction, and Kusma.
At the meeting, Naik gave verbal instructions to his officers to permit schools to convert to English medium; but any joy for Kannada schools was short-lived. As reported by newswire United News of India on 1 January, the education minister denied any change of stance while talking to reporters at a public forum. The minister was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts to reach him
In July the Karnataka high court had ruled that the medium of instruction is the prerogative of parents to choose and cannot not be imposed by the state.
Says G.S. Sharma, president of Kusma, “We have written a strong letter (to the minister). Nobody can ignore the high court order. This amounts to contempt of court.”
State bureaucrats have decided to toe the minister’s line until the issue is cleared up. “We are all for Kannada. We will go for appeal in the Supreme Court,” said a senior education department official. He asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Karnataka has already taken the matter to the Supreme Court and the case comes up for hearing on 6 February.
Nightingale Education Society, a trust that runs a school in central Karnataka district of Shimoga, has reapplied for conversion. “If I don’t get a response in one week...we will file a (case of) contempt of court,” says Thyagaraja Varakumar, president and owner of Nightingale School, which has 170 students.