I went home to Surat for a school reunion a few weeks ago. It was wonderful to meet friends again, some of them after 25 years. It was a formal thing, and our principal and teachers spoke, as did some of the students. I was struck once again by the quality of the language.

Our teachers spoke an embarrassingly-broken English, sprinkled with errors and without felicity. The students, now 43, spoke it uncomfortably and in sing-song, like characters in those dubbed cartoons.

The clichés about us are true and Gujaratis are rubbish at English. But the state does nothing to make the lower middle class competitive in the language. In Gujarat’s government-run schools, students are denied English as a subject till class V, meaning age 10, which is too late. The Congress has supported introduction of English earlier but the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reject this.

The upper castes, BJP-supporters, almost to a man, are fine with this policy, because they are business-oriented and don’t need those skills. It is the children of Gujarat’s poor who are cruelly denied opportunity. Unlike the children of the poor in big cities elsewhere in India, they have little means of escape through language. I have tried raising this on television debates but the Gujarat government’s defenders, who are organized and many, misrepresent facts and are efficient at shouting people down. This tragedy is being played out unnoticed, though the evidence is on display even in the textbooks.

Perhaps you think I exaggerate. How bad could it be? Let’s have the government itself explain how it puts together its textbooks. Under the magnificent heading “Overview" (from the website), the ministry tells us this:

Establishment Gujarat state Textbook Mandal was established in AD 1969 on 21st October. Since 38 year mandals main target. High quality textbooks are published and to Gujarat students they are easily available at reasonable prices.

Through Mandal Std. 1-12 Gujarati Medium textbooks are published. Thereafter in Hindi, English, Marathi, Sindhi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Tamil Language also text books are published.

Board Committees Mandals whole management is done properly; it decided objectives are fulfilled for that Board Committee is formed as below.

(1) General Board (2) Director Board (3) Working committee (4) Educational committee (5) Production committee (6) Research committee.

Above mentioned all committee’s administration works properly regarding that advise suggestions are given.

Mandal distribution related works Printed textbooks are distributed in whole Gujarat at Government level working organizations through them with district distributor textbook are sold in retail for that work distributors are hired. Retailers registration is done in mandal. In Ahmedabad also Ahmedabad has its own selling centre. (Sale Depot, Godown no. 9 below Asarva Bridge, Ahmedabad – 380016, Ph. 22133920) is there. At any institute or personal level to any student from this sale centre textbook can be availed at retailing std. from outside Gujarat through money order or bank draft also textbooks can be obtained.

Mandals research related work Textbook mandal by publishing textbook is not satisfied. Textbooks quality improves continuously for that research related work is also done. From primary teacher to university professors knowledgeable persons are joined in evaluation programme and other educational programme. Textbooks writers, advisers, translators etc. for them work of finding genius is done.

Mandal’s work in new sector

Basic subject’s textbook – AD 1999 to Std. 11-12, basic subject 26 textbooks publishing being done Mandal for general exam additional subjects through textbook relevant sectors students are provided basic literature. Due to this in village and Kurshi sector also Mandal human research development important work could give own contribution."

Under this text, which I have reproduced in full without change, is the counter which shows that over 900,000 people have visited the site, which was put up in 2007-08. There is a disclaimer which reads:

“Gujarat Government Education Department related information is easily available to people from one place only with that aim this website is developed. Regarding this matter if you have any opinion then you are requested to contact us. To keep this site latest and the mistake that come our consideration to correct those mistakes all efforts will be done. In this site document information created by people and private organizations is there. The information available for outside, on its exactness, co ordination latest or completion we have no control or we can give any promise, this matter has to be kept in mind." Etc.

What sort of textbooks does this quality of board put out? I am ashamed to even attack them, so third-rate is Gujarat’s education system. People who have tried to correct it have got no response, despite this disclaimer. An acquaintance from Surat, Dharmendra Sheth of the English Language Teachers’ Association of India, wrote to me to say he has pointed this out to the chief minister and bureaucrats several times, but has had no replies.

I’m not surprised and the tragedy continues as the emperor parades in his new clothes.

Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns

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