National Knowledge Commission
हिन्दी বাংলা অসমীয়া অসমীয়া ಕನ್ನಡ
ارد و தமிழ் नेपाली মণিপুরী ଓଡ଼ିଆ ગુજરાતી


20th October 2006

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

In your meetings with the National Knowledge Commission, you have always stressed the importance of an inclusive society as the foundation for a knowledge society. This led us to reflect on the significance of language, not only as a medium of instruction or a means of communication but also as a determinant of access. We came to the conclusion that an understanding of, and a command over the English language, is perhaps the most important determinant of access to higher education, employment possibilities and social opportunities. School leavers who are not adequately trained in English as a language are always at a handicap in the world of higher education. More often than not, teaching is in English. Even if it is not, in most subjects, books and journals are available only in English. And those who do not know English well enough, find it exceedingly difficult to compete for a place in our premier educational institutions. This disadvantage is accentuated further in the world of work, not only in professional occupations but also in white-collar occupations.

This reality is not lost on our people, who recognize that the English language is a critical determinant of access to, and opportunities for a better life. Available information suggests that middle-income or lower-income households spend a large proportion of their modest income on sending their children to relatively expensive English medium schools. Such educational opportunities for children are a priority that is almost at par with health care for the family. But there are a very large number of people who simply do not have the resources for this purpose. The outcome is exclusion. We believe that inclusion is possible through public provision.

There is an irony in the situation. English has been part of our education system for more than a century. Yet, English is beyond the reach of most of our young people, which makes for highly unequal access. Indeed, even now, no more than 1 per cent of our people use it as a second language, let alone a first language.

These realities cannot be changed overnight. But the National Knowledge Commission believes that the time has come for us to teach our people, ordinary people, English as a language in schools. And we are convinced that action in this sphere, starting now, would help us build an inclusive society and transform India into a knowledge society. In just twelve years, it would provide our school leavers with far more equal access to higher education and, three to five years thereafter, much more equal access to employment opportunities.

We engaged in informal consultations on this subject with a wide range of people in government, academia, media and industry. We consulted some Chief Ministers in the states. We consulted Members of Parliament. We consulted people in professions such as medicine and law. We consulted civil society organizations. There was unanimity of views that this can and should be done. In order to work out the modalities in terms of  first steps, we also constituted a Working Group. The report submitted by this group was used as an input in our deliberations.




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