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Usree Bhattacharya

In India, the teaching of English, a British colonial import and imposition, occurs within an ideologically contested, socioeconomically stratified, and politically charged terrain. Several centuries after its first arrival on Indian shores, English remains a minority, elite language, accessible mostly to urban dwellers and those in the middle and upper classes. Therefore, its present-day circulation helps reproduce and sustain colonial language hierarchies. Significantly, ideologies about English span a wide spectrum, from the language being cast as an illness, to its being seen as a necessary evil for progress, to its being heralded as a vital instrument for uplifting the poor and marginalized. Furthermore, the idea of an indigenized “Indian English” holds sway in the scholarly imagination, even as it is unclear what shape its porous boundaries take within the national consciousness. In perpetual dialog with other Indian languages, English is constantly negotiating a role in India’s rich multilingual networks. Crucially, it functions as the most powerful medium of instruction in the country, firmly regulating access to socioeconomic mobility and higher education. English instruction in India was established to serve colonial interests, and the traces of this past remain in contemporary pedagogical practices. Further, English instruction faces a variety of challenges in India today, including infrastructure constraints, complexities of multilingual pedagogy, rigid grammar translation pedagogy and rote-learning practices, teaching to the test, widespread use of inappropriate and culturally insensitive textbooks, and inadequate investment in teacher training. English controls access to power, prestige, and privilege in modern India; these factors, among others, play a determining role in perpetuating educational inequality across classes. Shining a light on the context in which English instruction occurs in India is thus both an educational and a social justice imperative.