Sakshi Singh, a Class VI student of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Noida, all of 11, is remarkably clear about what she wants to be when she grows up. “A doctor—in Germany,” she announces, quite sure about the ‘where’. Kajal Semwal, a Class X student at the same school, has similar ambitions about a choice of place. “I’d love to work at a firm like Volkswagen in Germany,” she says. When other students at the school, and in other Kendriya Vidyalayas, express similar ideas, you wonder what drives this single-minded attraction for Germany. But that indeed is the primary aim of Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan’s programme: promoting the German language in the 1,000-plus Kendriya Vidyalaya network. The idea is to prepare students to take up university education, and later, jobs in Germany.
“They are all excited about German lessons. Some of them say it’s their favourite subject. Incentives like creativity camps and the prospect of trips to Germany keep them motivated,” says Shipra Sharma, who teaches the language at the Kendriya Vidyalaya, Noida, one of the first to launch the programme.Its dedicated German lab is something principal R.S. Rana is proud of—an air-conditioned room with posters of German locales, a large flatscreen TV, whiteboards, a library of German books.
But it isn’t all smooth sailing just yet. As the rather vigorous mission to take German to Kendriya Vidyalaya gets into top gear this year, not everyone’s thrilled about students being “lured” into picking a foreign language. Least of all Dr Vishambhar Dayalu, general secretary of the Sanskrit Shikshak Sangathan, an association of Sanskrit teachers.
This May, he filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court against German being offered as a choice against Sanskrit. The petition says: “This order was not only against the Sanskrit language but also against the Indian languages and was a blow on the Soul of India.” In fact, he says it’s “illegal and in violation of the Constitution”. The two things he opposes most are the training of Sanskrit teachers to teach German (both languages are of the Indo-European family) and the luring of students into choosing German by taking them on trips to Germany. “By giving in to temptation, we are failing to preserve our classical language,” he says, awaiting a response from court. His bigger fear: when languages like French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese are introduced in Kendriya Vidyalayas in the coming years, as is the plan, Sanskrit will be forgotten.
Dream land KV students meet Merkel in Berlin
One could argue that the initiative smacks of a kind of indoctrination, in which young students are drawn in with the promise of a “German experience”, lucrative jobs and a future in a “faraway, fair land”. Should children really be swamped with such views so early in their academic routine, or learn a language at age 10-11 with a foreign career as the bait? Madhav Chavan of Pratham, an education sector NGO, says, “Learning a new language is a positive step, and if the Kendriya Vidyalayas are using a future in Germany as a pitch, we’ll have to wait and see if that actually happens.”
Dr Shachi Kant, joint commissioner, Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, and pioneer of the German programme, believes this provides the perfect opportunity for Indian students to expand their horizons, “especially given Germany’s strong economic stability despite serious financial strain on its other European neighbours. Learning German can give them a future.”
The programme has created quite a stir among students and teachers across 350 Kendriya Vidyalayas, including those in towns like Dantewada and Pithoragarh. Students can choose between Sanskrit and German Class VI onwards, and despite the higher cost of German books, the response has been overwhelming. Currently, the Goethe Institut is looking for German teachers for Kendriya Vidyalayas in Ladakh and Rajasthan, where students are keen on learning German.
Rahish Kumar doesn’t regret moving to the Kendriya Vidyalaya in Jagdalpur, Chattisgarh, from his hometown of Muzaffarpur, in Bihar, to teach German. “Though I’m in a Naxal area and a small town, the interest in learning German is high. I teach 15-30 students per class, 170 students in all, taking three classes a week,” says Kumar, who went through special training at the Goethe Institut. In September 2011, a memorandum of understanding between the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan and the Goethe Institut sealed the deal: the latter would provide logistical, academic and teacher-training support to the schools.
The focus isn’t merely on teaching the language, but to get a feel of life in Germany, to understand the culture there, says Puneet Kaur, project head for the German programme in Kendriya Vidyalayas. Indeed, incentives include free trips to Germany, based on performances in competitions such ‘Germany in my Mind’, where students are expected to present creative projects. “The world is growing smaller, and knowing German helps in a big way,” observes Kaur. “It has the impression of being difficult to learn, but we teach it in a communicative manner, so if they can speak it, it’s mission accomplished. We teach them to text and to send e-mails. All this could help students get access to German universities, and create employment opportunities, whether in German companies in India or in Germany, in sectors like auto, finance and banking,” says Kaur.
So then, should India gear up for Brain Drain 2.0? Vielleicht.
I don't want to be discouraging, but the standard of spoken and written english of the kids in rural and small town India is far from satisfactory, despite the fact that most of them have studied the language for at least twelve years. If this points to any general (in)ability to assismilate languages other than their own mother tongue, these kids are going to have a hard time learning any foreign language. Besides, knowing German or French alone doesn't guarantee employment in Germany or France.
At a time when the articulation skill of Indian
students are if not poor, but not bright, the step
to introduce German langauge is welcome. Unless we change
the mindset that education is for getting employment and
learning German is an assured passport for employment,
we will back to square one.
It's pretty nice, that children can learn German in school. I think, people have the option of learning French in college.
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