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October 28: The roots of the present-day education system in India lie in British attempts, more than one and a half century ago, to raise a breed of English-speaking Indians who were ‘babus’ or clerks and could manage the affairs of the British rulers.

That is why the study of English has always been stressed in India, even if it is at the expense of the country’s languages. And why English is India’s first language today.

Today, Britain finds itself in the quaint position of recruiting English-speaking Indian teachers for its schools, to halt their falling standards. It has recruited 120 Indian teachers for government and private schools in Britain.

These teachers are being hired to teach mathematics, science and information technology – subjects in which Indians have been acknowledged to be good. But surprise, surprise, they are going to be teaching English too!

The Empire Strikes Back
The Empire Strikes Back [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
Initial Education Personnel is the company that recruits the teachers. Their spokesperson was in Delhi to interview applicants. The contracts could be for a period of one to four years.

A severe shortage of teachers in the UK is the reason that’s forcing the British education board to look towards the Commonwealth countries for hiring trained quality teachers. The Commonwealth is a combine of Great Britain and all countries who were its former colonies.

“Educated people there opt for the corporate or IT sector where they are far better paid than teachers,” says Peter Upton, director, education and training, at London’s British Council to The Times of India, which wrote a report on this development.

Information Technology and Education are the two key areas where the British system is weak in the knowledge-based society of today, says Upton.

“Our education system has to be re-engineered to become world-class in a connected world. And our students need to acquire the right skills to stay in the race,” adds Upton. Since Indians are generally strong in these areas, it is expected that Indian teachers will provide the extra edge.

But will the British take kindly to teachers from countries that were once their colonies, teach them the language that originally belonged to them – English?

Upton admits it might create problems in the beginning, but is confident of things improving in a while. Ultimately, the idea is for the British teaching force to reflect a multi-cultural society that is Britain.

It’s not merely in the fields of IT and education that the expertise of Indians is sought. The decision to recruit Indian teachers follows the decision of British railways, that most British of institutions, to hire Indian engineers to help modernise the London-Glasgow railway link.

This is because Britain lacks people with engineering and manufacturing skills. And to think that Britain was the first country to use steam locomotives, nearly 150 years ago!

Meanwhile the first batch of teachers to be hired by IEP, are excited about going to Britain. “Working in London! It’s a great opportunity,” says Prabha Nair, a teacher who’s been selected. But she’s also sure to go only if the money is worth it.