India will scrap the mandatory use of English in its primary schools, with subjects instead taught in Hindi or regional languages like Punjabi, for the first time since its independence in 1947.
The controversial move is part of the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, the largest educational shake-up in India in 34 years, which was spearheaded by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Hindu-nationalist youth wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
As part of the reforms, school syllabuses will focus on “ancient Indian knowledge”. Abolishing compulsory English is seen as a way to promote a united Indian identity from an early age.
For much of the BJP’s support base, English is associated with colonial times and the old corrupt ruling Indian elite which followed afterwards and its abolishment as a mandatory language fits Mr. Modi’s wider policy of driving Indian nationalism.
While only 0.02 percent of India’s 1.38 billion citizens speak English as a mother tongue, it was seen as the vital bridge in a diverse country where 19,500 different languages and dialects are spoken.
Parents took to social media to express their anger at the decision, saying it would reduce their children’s future employment prospects, with fluent English considered essential for highly-coveted and well-paid jobs overseas.
“Why would any progressive country want to eliminate [the] English language from primary school? India enjoys a global advantage for we have the highest English speaking workforce, we are heading towards disaster,” wrote one user on Twitter.
In 2018, India was the highest recipient of remittances in the world - with over £60 billion sent home - with its citizens typically working in English-speaking countries including the United Kingdom and Australia.
Aside from the decision to scrap English in primary schools, the NEP was received with enthusiasm by Indian parents.
As part of the policy the Indian Government will increase its spending on education from 4.4 percent to six percent.
India’s public education system is chronically underfunded, with a shortage of around 800,000 teachers nationally and over 75 percent more classrooms needed to meet demand in the northern state of Bihar.