Topic: English empower certain groups and disenfranchise others.
The emergence of the use of English language has become prevalent in today’s fast-paced world. This is because English is the primary language of communication in many countries and it is being used commonly in sectors such as in education, business and information resources. Furthermore, it allows people to assimilate and share their ideas with others. In this essay, I will focus on how English benefitted children living in poverty in India and Nigeria economically. We will also look at the issue of these impoverished children faced such as the loss of culture while being proficient in English. In India, what accounts for the loss of culture for children living in poverty is that after they are educated, they may speak English more than their domestic language since English is labelled as a status symbol for the upper class. Although English might lead to a loss of culture, there are instances where it assimilates into the country’s culture instead. In Nigeria, there is less of or no such culture loss because English is their official language and Nigerians have used English alongside with their indigenous languages from the past to present.
English empowers children living in poverty
The English language allows impoverished children to acquire basic knowledge and skills such as reading and writing. Through education, these children can increase their chances of employment, and can then escape from the poverty cycle. In India, according to the Government of India Planning Commission (2014), it concludes that between 2011 to 2012, more than 2167 Indians living in rural and more than 532 Indians living in urban sector fall below poverty line of $1.25 for each person per day. Furthermore, according to Smile Foundation (2017), only one-third of India’s citizens can read, and they have a very high percentage of school drop-outs due to poverty. This is because education is viewed as a luxury for the underprivileged. Thus, if these children can receive quality access to education, it will improve their lives as education provides higher chances for them to be employed in the future. According to the Children International (2017), it is a global non-profit humanitarian organization focused on helping children to escape from cynical nature of poverty through health, education, empowerment, and employment. Through education, as Children International (2017) claims, there are more than 28,000 children in India that are in the C.I programme and they all learned English to have greater chances to find better jobs as English is the main language for workplaces. Thus, C. I’s Early Childhood Development program provided impoverished children lessons on English, math, singing, and poetry. This allows children to have a greater advantage in India’s competitive based placement system. With education, poorer children can increase chances of being employed. According to Schellekens (2001), English language skill is one of the main criteria for many jobs and it is important for employees to communicate fluently in English. Furthermore, as Azam, Chin and Prakash (2013) highlighted the point that in India, for people who are proficient in English, their hourly pay is on average around 34%, and 13% higher than those who do not know the English language. Hence, this shows that English is greatly associated with one’s salary. If Indians can speak English, which is the fundamental basis for education, they will increase the rate of returns they can achieve. As such, when the impoverished children learn English, they can increase the chances of being employed for a higher pay job. This will greatly help them to stand a chance to break the poverty cycle and prevent transmission of poverty through generations.
In addition, there are also children living in poverty in Nigeria, according to World Bank (2017), half of the population live on poverty line on US$2.5 per day. Furthermore, as WENR staff (2017) assert, in 2010, around 8.7 million elementary children did not receive education which makes Nigeria one of the countries that have the highest number of children uneducated. To help the underprivileged children to learn English through education, there are organizations such as British Council that claims, they had spent 2.7 million between 2008 to 2014 in Nigeria through the Education Sector Support Programme to provide quality basic education across Nigeria. Furthermore, the TY Danjuma Foundation also asserts that the organization provides equal access to education, quality and lifelong skills training education to more than 23,000 Nigerians have been supported. As Reed and Mberu (2014) claim, 33% of Nigerians graduated with higher education are employed in professional and technical jobs and around 18% of sales. Thus, this suggests that educated people can have more job opportunities. In addition, once they are employed, they will earn income which will slowly help them to alleviate the cycle of poverty.
Hence, in India and Nigeria, English has empowered children living in poverty through education, as it allows them to gain skills and knowledge that will increase employment opportunities and may help them to get out of poverty.
The Cultural loss in India
The English language poses a possible threat to native languages and cultures. In India, children who were taught English are prone to the risk of a loss of culture as the English language may assimilate into their culture and replace their native language. As Jeffrey (n.d.) claims, the idea of westernisation is spread globally and led to social and marginalizing of minority culture, languages and religions.
The current situation in India is such that there has been a growing influence of the use of the English language. According to Barbara (2000), it is found that although the officials only permit the use of English language for their business, India is still the world’s fourth largest population of English-speakers. As she further elaborates, English has come to be a second language for most of the people in India. Furthermore, Mesthrie (2006) states that in her research findings based on high school students in Durban, out of 547 pupils, approximately 91% are more proficient in English than the Indian language, and around 27% used English more than their home language.
In India, those proficient in English get better-paying jobs as they perceive the use of English to be mainly of the upper class. The reason for the popularity of English among the people can be traced back to during India’s colonial times, which can be seen in the colonial background study of India by Azam, Chin and Prakash (2013), that states that in 1947, after India achieved independence from Britain, English became the symbol of power and prestige. As Azam, Chin and Prakash (2013) elaborate, English was associated with the law and government jobs and became a communication tool. Thus, this means that one needs to be proficient in the English language to get white-collar jobs that offered stable employment and work benefits, or else they will only be able to do lower-end jobs like labor work. For those that managed to attain a good education, wealth and status, they renounce their community and moved to places that will fit their status so as to prevent shame and embarrassment by their past community. Thus, it can be seen that the past history of India colonialism has affected the present situation, such that English is being labelled as a status symbol for the Indians now. As a result, most people view English as the lingua franca of the higher classes, and for those seeking a better life, a chance to empower their lives and get out of the poverty cycle.
The loss of culture in India can be seen when their native language is replaced by English. This is evident as Shaivya and Smriti (2014) contend that, currently, Indian languages have been replaced by English as the language of the upper and middle classes. Shaivya and Smriti (2014) add that English has been made superior by English speakers and native languages are losing its significance among the locals. Furthermore, Shaivya and Smiriti (2014) elaborate that if students from Hindi mediums go to a higher education but do not communicate in English, they will be seen as inferior compared to others who are proficient in the English language. They also mention that this gave a negative perception that being proficient in traditional Indian languages is a disgrace, which led the younger generation to forsake their culture and identity. As Upadhayaya (2013) asserts, in the last 50 years, India has suffered a cultural loss of 250 languages and Indian courts only allow the usage of 22 languages which may show a restriction of other Indian languages. Furthermore, as Sadana (2012) claims, there is a loss of mother tongue language as the younger generation do not know their own language as learning Indian languages depended on where their parents decide to settle down at or the environment the children grows up in, some learn Hindi, some learn English however, majority still do not know how to read their traditional languages which is equivalent to no mother language.
No cultural loss in Nigeria
However, in Nigeria, English has not undervalued culture and displace other indigenous languages because they use English alongside with their indigenous languages from the past to present. According to Bisong (1995), even though English in Nigeria is the official language, it did not replace their traditional languages. This is due to, as Bisong (1995) elaborates, Nigeria culture is made up of several sub-cultures of different ethnic groups in the country’s borders and foreign culture of Euro-Christian and Arab-Islamic culture. Furthermore, in the past, the Nigerian variety of English language has already been tantamount to non-native English and is used with other languages to represent the Nigerian culture. Moreover, Barbara (2000) claims that Nigeria has become the world’s third largest English speakers. Since Nigeria is a country with a diversity of cultures, English has become a symbol to one of the foreign cultures, the dominant role of Euro-Christian and it acted as a tool to evoke awareness of Nigerians. Additionally, they also think that it is important to know more than one languages in today’s world. Hence, the English language does not undermine Nigerian culture and English is not seen as a status symbol for Nigerians.
English does empower the impoverished children who were taught the English language because they have benefitted financially. In India, even though they have managed to gain an advantage because of English, they lose a part of them. These children may have a high risk of losing their cultural heritage, native language, and their identity. This is due to a majority of them forsaking all these to pursue the English language which is perceived to be a form of status symbol. Yet, in Nigeria, English is always used alongside with their native languages thus they do not regard English to be a status symbol as it is their official language.