English Medium Education Can Lead to Poorer English

Giridhar Rao has a new essay out From Mother Tongue to Many Tongues which makes two interesting points

One that English medium education can lead to “poor educational outcomes”

“It is now well established that when a child begins learning in his or her first language that child is more likely to succeed academically and is better able to learn additional languages.”

I blogged about this in my post More English and More Non-English.

But the other interesting point made is that English medium education can lead to general “language impoverishment”. (L2 here is English and L1 is the mother tongue.)

Starting L2 as early as possible, and teaching as much of the curriculum as possible through the L2 does not result in effective or widespread L2 acquisition. At best, this results in “subtractive bilingualism”: an L2 acquired at the expense of L1. Most often, the result is simply language impoverishment; not being able to use either L1 or L2 adequately.

The essay cites many references. Please go read it if you can.

The second point, that an early start or transition to English medium education, can actually lead to communicating in all languages poorly, including English, is counter intuitive and some of you may disagree with it just based upon your own personal experience or the people you know. But I would argue that the readers of this blog likely had a privileged environment – exposure to English at home and with friends early on etc. – or may have been gifted enough to overcome the disadvantage. So you are not exactly a random sample of India’s population.

Across the cross section of India, I think English medium education works to disperse educational outcomes. For a small minority, it results in better English skills but no better general educational outcomes. This small minority, who have an “English friendly” environment, an English medium education poses no hurdle, or a very small one. But the rewards are linked to opportunities in the global marketplace for higher education and jobs, including the export oriented service industries in India.

For the large majority, however, according to the research, English medium education works differently and leads to poorer educational outcomes and poorer language skills. If this is the case, it must be a matter of great concern to education administrators.

Whether there is language impoverishment in India compared to other countries, is a tough question to answer. In the companies I have worked in, American employees in the same role have uniformly had better English skills than Indian employees. But language impoverishment would imply that the English skills of the American employees were better than the Mother Tongue skills of Indian employees, which I wouldn’t know. My guess is they are.

More English and More Non-English

Chetan Bhagat has a recent post on his blog which is a transcript of a speech that he gave at the British Council in Delhi. He defines two groups in India. One, which he calls E1, is proficient in English and gets all the good jobs. The other, E2, is familiar with the language but is not proficient. E2 is ten times the size of E1. He would like to see effort being made, by the likes of the British Council, to shift more people from E2 to E1.

It’s hard to argue against this point of view. Expanding E1 or for that matter E2 as well is good. Spoken English skills are what have enabled India to create the huge offshore services sector. English is also the common language that links India and is therefore the de facto language of big business. Better English skills – spoken, written or really at any level – enhances a person’s employability and opens higher paying job opportunities.

But is more and better English the only dimension there is to language in education? I see two problems with this.


Best Practices in Voter Bribery

Indian Rupee NoteIndia’s general elections are around the corner. As you know, the most important factor that determines the outcome of our elections is money – how much and how it is spent – in the crucial electoral process of buying votes.

The amount of money spent is, of course, a key determinant of electoral victory. We will cover that in a later article on Corruption and Campaign Finance. In this article we will discuss the state of the art in actually getting the bribes into the hands of the voters.


IT and the Government

Atanu Dey has a series of posts that criticize the IT Vision Document released by the BJP in the runup to the Indian elections. In his latest post The Rational IT Policy, he proposes an IT policy that basically does nothing – an Unpolicy, if you will. It requires government to stay out of the way of individuals and the market which will make their own decisions about using IT or not.

To me this seems wrong-headed. I think it is important for any government that comes to power to nurture and encourage the use of IT in government, business, education and at home.


Career Advice to the IIM Ahmedabad Graduating Class

1395668938_dc7ce824e6_mLast week I was at IIM Ahmedabad for my 20 year reunion. For two days and three nights we had non-stop fun reliving all the special memories from our times at IIM. Reunions, some say, can be quite a let down. Your classmates and you went down different walks of life, they’ll say, and you don’t quite have that connection anymore. Our reunion was, if possible, even better than the high expectations we came with. The reconnection was instant, as if no time had gone by. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

During one of the few serious sessions on campus, we talked to some of the current PGPs and PGP Xs about careers and career choices. (PGP is the Post Graduate Program, which is the regular two year MBA. PGP X is a 12 month program akin to an Exec MBA). Given how bleak the job scene out there looks, and how concerned the students were, I thought I’d do a post for IIM A students graduating this year or the next.


Satyam – the Larceny Scenario

Investigators looking into the fraud that has been called India’s Enron have found a “maze” of about 300 companies related to Mr. Raju that were used to “siphon” as much as $1 billion in cash from Satyam, said a senior official involved in the inquiry, who was granted anonymity to discuss developments in the case.

A New York Times report indicates a simple answer to what happened to Satyam’s missing billion dollars – larceny. The performance of the company – revenues, margins – were not systematically overstated over many years as Ramalinga Raju claimed they were. Instead, the promoters were stealing. This simpler explanation is something I have suspected all along.

Ironically, if this is true, this is good news for Satyam. On many fronts.


Satyam Operating Margins Look Real


I pulled this chart together on our very own research platform just to see if there were any signs in the operating margins that Satyam was managing earnings. I found none.

The comparables to Satyam (SAY) are Infosys, Wipro and Cognizant. Satyam’s range of the operating margins is just fine. The seasonality caused by the annual influx of trainees through campus hiring is also there. I couldn’t figure out why the dip was a quarter later than Infosys but there is probably a rational reason for that.

Also present is the uptick in margins in the last couple of quarters, which is presumably because of the favourable movement in exchange rates.

Managed earnings should leave some fingerprints. I couldn’t find any. So either Raju and co were very, very careful with how they were managing the earnings. Or, they weren’t managing earnings at all and the money has actually gone missing.

Satyam Next Steps

India’s regulatory authorities have made a great start on the Satyam accounting fraud scandal. The two bodies that would have regulatory oversight over such a situation – the Ministry of Company Affairs and SEBI – are both playing this on the front foot. The Raju brothers the CFO have been arrested and remanded to judicial custody. The Satyam board has been sacked and very quickly a new board is being assembled. So far so good.


Questions re Satyam

While I was out of circulation and not blogging (business trip and vacation) the Satyam saga was unfolding. I remained abreast of what was happening but didn’t post anything on it. It’s been well covered by other bloggers and the media in general both in India and abroad. So I won’t bother adding my opinion except to say that if India Inc. is to redeem itself, what happens from here on out is what matters. The Rajus, on the other hand, cannot redeem themselves. Nor can the independent directors, unless they publicly say that critical information was withheld from them.

But I have several questions about the whole affair. Some of them are rhetorical, others are real questions. So if you know the answers or where I can read up on material, please let me know.