The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

June - 2004 - issue > In My Opinion

Beyond English

Sankrant Sanu
Monday, May 31, 2004
Sankrant Sanu
In popular understanding India’s recent success on the economic front—particularly in IT and services—is often attributed to the English language. While the knowledge of English has been a positive factor in some cases, an elite fixation on the English medium of education is also a detriment to broad-based, sustained economic growth.

No more than 10 percent of the population in India knows English; an even smaller percentage is fluent in it. India’s biggest leverage over the coming years is going to be the size of its working population. A cost advantage in labor in services like IT and BPO can be sustained only if we manage not to restrict the labor pool to 10 percent of the working population; and thus act like a country a tenth of our size.
For the vast number of children being educated in Indian villages, English still remains a very high barrier to entry. The rural environment neither attracts good English teachers nor does it provide opportunities for practicing the language. English is also a particularly difficult language to learn for non-native speakers because it is phonetically and logically inconsistent.

While one may be tempted to see India’s existing employment pool as vast, any IT manager is aware that the best talent is always scarce. English-centric bias has often stereotyped non-English speaking villagers as stupid and ignorant.

I spent the summer of 2002 visiting various village schools to ascertain the truth of these assumptions. I carried with me standardized non-verbal IQ tests from the U.S., normed on the US population. I administered these tests to schoolchildren in Indian village schools, as well as elite and slums schools in urban areas. The results of these tests are in the chart.
The urban sample consists of children going to elite urban schools in the U.S. and India. The rural sample and the slum (defined as that economic society living below the poverty line in urban zones) sample were obtained from tests administered to rural and slum children in India respectively. N represents the number of children that were sampled in each case. The bars represent the percent of children that score within a given percentile level for each segment.

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