Teach­ing of lan­guages

A look at the state of ed­u­ca­tion in Ba­naras and the way school ed­u­ca­tion stan­dard­ises lan­guages and val­orises one lan­guage over an­other.

FrontLine - - BOOKS IN REVIEW - BY MO­HAM­MAD SAJJAD

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DUCA­TION and its so­ci­ol­ogy is a rel­a­tively un­der-ex­plored theme in the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent. In fact, there is a con­sid­er­able deficit of stud­ies on his­to­ries of ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions also.

This book is an at­tempt at fill­ing up some of th­ese gaps “in or­der to pro­vide an un­der­stand­ing of how ed­u­ca­tion and so­ci­ety con­nect in di­verse ways”. The au­thor, Nir­mali Goswami, makes her ob­jec­tives clear at the out­set, by ex­plain­ing that this is “a study of the prac­tice and so­cial con­se­quences of stan­dard lan­guage-learn­ing” to un­ravel the axes of lan­guage and power-re­la­tions. This is her doc­toral study, which seems to have been re­vised very well be­fore be­ing pub­lished. Her lit­er­a­ture re­view is bril­liant, crisp and con­cise.

Method­olog­i­cally this work is very sound; the au­thor’s hard work, tenac­ity, an­a­lyt­i­cal abil­i­ties, deep in­sights and sharp ob­ser­va­tions are well tes­ti­fied in this work. Clar­ity of pur­pose is ar­tic­u­lated not only about the theme but also about the choice of the city of Ba­naras.

“The city of Ba­naras is se­lected for field­work be­cause of its his­toric as­so­ci­a­tion with the Hindi Na­tion­al­ist Move­ment which was in­stru­men­tal in defin­ing the stan­dard form of Hindi. The field ma­te­rial is drawn pri­mar­ily from a pri­vate school and its com­mu­nity lo­cated in Ba­naras, [where]... English and stan­dard Hindi are used by high sta­tus groups cut­ting across class, com­mu­nity and eth­nic­ity back­grounds... [be­sides] San­skrit,

Urdu.”

In Ba­naras, Hindi is the dom­i­nant lan­guage in terms of its nu­meric strength in Cen­sus re­sults, as well as in its po­lit­i­cal recog­ni­tion. Be­sides the stan­dard lan­guages of English, Urdu and San­skrit, there are pop­u­lar lan­guages like Bho­jpuri and Ba­narsi. Nir­mali Goswami’s at­tempt is to show “how peo­ple con­struct their and oth­ers’ iden­ti­ties vis a vis the pop­u­lar lan­guages (or di­alects) prac­tised com­monly on ev­ery­day ba­sis Ben­gali and but not recog­nised at of­fi­cial level”.

She un­rav­els for us “the world of ver­nac­u­lar medium ed­u­ca­tion”, mak­ing us com­pre­hend the “power dy­nam­ics which op­er­ate at lo­cal level and how they con­nect with na­tional dis­courses of moder­nity and progress through ed­u­ca­tion”. The book shows how the di­alects spo­ken at home present a chal­lenge in school where pupils en­counter stan­dard­ised Hindi. This ho­mogenis­ing project of the na­tion state has its own reper­cus­sions. The au­thor finds that “Hindi in spite of gain­ing the of­fi­cial sta­tus has not been par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful in es­tab­lish­ing its claims at na­tional level, and to project it­self as a ve­hi­cle of so­cial mo­bil­ity and one that be­longs to ev­ery­one”. The book also ex­am­ines how the norm of stan­dard­ised Hindi is con­structed and le­git­imised against the lo­cal in­flu­ences of Ba­narsi/bho­jpuri. It also ex­am­ines how “Urdu has a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for the school pop­u­la­tion and yet oc­cu­pies a mar­ginal space in dis­course of the mod­ern school, whereas English is widely per­ceived to be a lan­guage of progress and moder­nity”.

The his­tor­i­cal con­text of the evo­lu­tion of the school­ing sys­tem in Ba­naras and the con­flict be­tween colo­nial and indige­nous forms of knowl­edge and ed­u­ca­tion have been dis­cussed quite com­pre­hen­sively. The dis­cus­sion also touches on the de­mo­graphic de­tails of the city and its re­la­tions with

Le­git­imis­ing Stan­dard Lan­guages Per­spec­tives from a School in Ba­naras By Nir­mali GoswamiSage Se­ries: So­ci­ol­ogy and So­cial An­thro­pol­ogy of Ed­u­ca­tion in South Asia;Se­ries Ed­i­tor: Meenakshi Tha­pan New Delhi, 2017 Pages xviii+225 Price: Rs.895

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