Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's plans of introducing English in government schools is facing opposition from her political rival, DMK chief M Karunanidhi.
"Learning in the native language alone will nurture self-learning and a non-native language will obstruct it," says Mr Karunanidhi.
Experts agree with the DMK chief, but they also point out that with little foundation in English, rural students are unable to cope in college where most subjects are taught in English.
"It will be interesting to see how many politicians send their children to Tamil medium or Hindi medium schools, or for that matter to government run public schools," said Merlia Shaukath Tanseer, Manager, Teach for India, a non-profit organisation.
Statistics also prove that more and more poor people are opting out of government schools in favour of private schools because they feel learning English gives their children a better chance.
Like Shashikala, a resident of a slum in Chennai, who has got all her three children admitted to a private school. She is spending Rs 60,000 a year on their fees because she hopes that an English medium school will give her little ones a better future.
"My name is Sathish. I'm studying fifth standard. I want to be a doctor," her son Sanjay proudly says in English.
According to annual status of education report, admissions in private schools are up 15 per cent in Class II, while the government schools see a decline in the enrolment rate.
Tamil Nadu produces more than a lakh engineering graduates every year, but recruiters say 80 per cent of them are unemployable for lack of competence in English. They say Amma's move, if implemented well, could make Tamil Nadu the capital for quality personnel.
"Once you leave school, it's not the percentage of marks that matter, it's about how well you can articulate and go about your job. If we can make them speak better, we will be the number one state," said Joshua Madan Samuel, COO, Covenant.
The DMK's anti-Hindi agitation in the 60s stopped a generation of youth from learning Hindi. With no national language, English has emerged as a passport for success. Is the DMK now pushing for more damage for narrow political gain?