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Language Blitzkrieg

A language initiative lures KV students with promise of jobs in Germany

Language Blitzkrieg
Tribhuvan Tiwari
Language Blitzkrieg
  • 350+ Kendriya Vidyalayas offer German-or-Sanskrit option; the plan is to take German to 1,000+ schools by 2017
  • This is the result of an MoU between KV Sangathan and the Goethe Institut
  • Students are taught German from Class VI-XII
  • Incentives include free trips to Germany for contest winners
  • 20,000 students,  including those in small towns, have taken up German


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.

Sanskrit teachers are miffed. Not only are they losing students, they are being asked to learn and teach German.

Meanwhile, Germany’s keenness to draw in young populations from abroad to bolster its ageing workforce is well known. Not having enough skilled professionals for its industries and a low youth unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent has led to the country regularly sponsoring apprentices from the UK, France, Spain, Greece and Thailand. In India, the idea is to catch them right from Class VI. “Many of the students who get to go to Germany haven’t even stepped inside a McDon­ald’s,” says Aak­anksha Kapoor, project coordinator  for German in the Kendriya Vidyalaya pro­g­­ramme. She’d accompanied a group of students from Kendriya Vidyalaya, Tug­hlaqabad, Delhi, to Ger­m­any this summer. The students interacted with chancellor Angela Mer­kel and prime min­ister Manmohan Singh in Berlin. Says a report on the Goethe Inst­­­itut web­site: “It was a trip that cha­nged these children forever. They went as ambassadors of India to Ger­many and came back as ambassadors of Germany to India!”

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.


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