English Ensures Economic Success

By Henry Chu
Los Angeles Times

BANGALORE, India (Jan 18, 2007)Few cities have been as successful as this one in parlaying a knowledge of English into an economic boom.

Every day, an army of call-centre workers chirps,”Can I help you?” in lilting Indian tones to thousands of customer-service callers half a world away. In other gleaming highrises, legions of software engineers toil at their computers designing programs for clients in the United States, Britain and Canada.

Bangalore is the world’s back office, an information technology outsourcing champion and a jewel in India’s burgeoning economy.

But a recent move by state authorities threatens to tarnish that reputation. In a twist that has caught many by surprise, hundreds of schools across Karnataka state, of which Bangalore is the capital, face closure for making English their chosen language in the classroom.

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Amid an upwelling of activism promoting indigenous languages across India, the state government announced in September that any campus established within the past 12 years must teach in the local tongue, Kannada, or shut its doors. The fates of nearly 300,000 students hang in the balance as 2,000 schools, almost all of them private institutions, fret over what to do before the axe falls in April.

The crackdown has triggered protest from educators who complain of infringement on academic freedom, from parents who see English as the ticket to their children’s success and from business leaders who warn that Bangalore could lose its competitive edge if it shuns one of its greatest assets.

English is still spoken in the corridors of Indian power. And to the frustration of advocates of local languages, almost all educated Indians speak English.

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