At 6.30 pm IST, English for Progress: Third Policy Dialogue was inaugurated by Nandan Nilekani, Chair of the Unique Idenitiy Authority of India and one of the pioneers of the IT revolution in India. David Graddol presented the findings of his report English Next India.
Ruth Gee, Regional Director of the British Council in India and Sri Lanka and Martin Davidson, Chief Executive of the British Council, spoke of the importance of the Council work in the area of English language and highlighted the work of Project English in India and Sri Lanka.
In his inaugural address Nandan Nilekani said that English played a key role not only in the field of commerce and industry but was also a key factor in cementing the diversity of India. English, he stressed was the language of opportunity and the challenge in front of the government and education agencies of all hues was to make the language more accessible and break down the class barriers surrounding the language in India at the moment.
David Graddol’s fascinating presentation raised a number of critical questions about issues we sometimes take for granted about English in the region. One such riddle was around the direct link between English and jobs in India. David took a fresh look at the easy corelation by pointing out that the link was only true of the organised services sector of the labour market, whihc was a very small fraction of the total job market. So if by a miracle, a majority of Indians had good English skills overnight, there simply wouldn’t be enough jobs to go around.
David stressed on the growing importance of English language competence as a skill at par with numeracy and ICT in the international education scene rather than a language with a baggage.
One of his most striking findings were how China is fast catching up or might even have surpassed India as far as the total number of English speakers were concerned. Part of the reason was the large scale project China embraced in 2001 to make English compulsory at the primary school level. But teacher proficiency, David said, was the key to achieving quality in English language education everywhere.
All in all, a very exciting launch of the Third Policy Dialogue. Speaking to other speakers and delgates from India and Sri Lanka, one can sense a lot of urgency among the various key education agencies to provide good English language skills.