School of Babel: Malayalam medium teachers in Kerala’s Kannada medium classes! – Onmanorama


Kasaragod: Suhiri S, a young man from Thiruvananthapuram district, has only a smattering of Kannada. But that has not stopped the Department of General Education from appointing him as the physical science teacher in the Kannada division of Government Higher Secondary School in Adhur, a village on the border of Kasaragod and Karnataka.
He has to teach Physics, Chemistry, and Biology to the Kannada medium students of Classes 8, 9, and 10. 
Mustering all his confidence, Suhiri told the headmistress in-charge, Saraswathi, that he would learn the language step by step. The staffroom burst into laughter. Instead of “ghatta ghatta” for step by step Suhiri said “ganda ganda”, which means husband in Kannada.
The teachers can laugh off Suhiri’s misstep. But for the students in the Kannada division of the high school, Suhiri spells doom for their future. “We lost two years to Covid and now we get a teacher who cannot even speak Kannada,” said Sanusha C H, a class 10 student. 
He uses a mix of broken Kannada, Malayalam, and English in his class. “We stopped attending his class. The government is ruining our future,” she said.
But the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC), the government’s recruitment agency, has been routinely hiring non-Kannada speakers as teachers for Kannada medium schools in Kasaragod district. The PSC, the state government and the Department of General Education have been ignoring the protests of the students and parents.
More than seven languages are spoken in Kasaragod district. Apart from Malayalam, the people of the district speak Tulu, Kannada, Konkani and Urdu. 
The state government has declared Karsaragod and Manjeshwar as linguistic minority taluks. There are 239 Kannada medium schools, including 49 high schools in the district. Of this 45 schools are in Kasaragod and Manjeshwar taluks and four in Hosdurg taluk. These schools have around 40,000 students. But of late, the PSC has been appointing non-Kannada speakers as teachers in these schools jeopardising the education of the students.
In late August, the department tried to post Shijeer S (36), another native of Thiruvananthapuram, as a physical science teacher to the Kannada division of Government Higher Secondary School at Angadimogar in Puthige panchayat. Livid residents and parents physically prevented him from joining. People will not allow ineligible persons to join as teachers and spoil children’s future, CPM leader and Puthige panchayat president Subbanna Alva had said. “The school will rather hire on contract a teacher who knows Kannada,” he had said.
Shijeer had to return and moved the Kerala Administrative Tribunal.
Suhiri, too, had come armed with a favourable order from the Kerala Administrative Tribunal. “We cannot do anything but give appointment orders when PSC gives (appointment) advice memos to candidates without the knowledge of Kannada and the courts uphold such appointments,” said K V Puspha, Kasaragod’s deputy director of education (DDE), the top education officer in the district.
Take the case of Suhiri. Despite not knowing Kannada, the PSC gave him an advice memo in December 2018 to teach in a Kannada medium school. In January 2019, the DDE appointed him as the physical science teacher in Government Higher Secondary School at Paivalike, another border panchayat in Kasaragod.
But the parents and students vehemently protested and he was forced to go on leave without pay for six months.
He then moved the Kerala Administrative Tribunal, which in February 2020 asked him to do a 10-month diploma course to master Kannada at the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysuru.
But he joined the institute only on January 10 this year and reported back to the office of the DDE after six months on August 1. 
The DDE said she appointed him at Adhur school because there was a vacancy for a physical science teacher and she had to comply with the order of the tribunal.
Suhiri joined the school on August 2 and students were taken aback. “He cannot write Kannada. He draws the letters on the board,” said Unaisa Saabi, a class 9 student. “Don’t get me wrong. We like him. He talks of his life, his marriage in class but he cannot teach,” she said.
The students held a protest at the office of the DDE demanding changing the teacher. “The DDE said she will find a solution in one week. But now it has been nearly two months. Now we are told to teach the teacher Kannada and adjust with what we got,” said Unaisa.
But unlike in Paivalike and Puthige, the PTA in Adhur school denies there is any problem. “The issue has been resolved. He has learned Kannada and the government appointed him,” said PTA president Mohammed Haneefa, whose son studies in the Malayalam medium. 
Students, who are boycotting the teacher, said they took up the matter with the DDE on Wednesday. “But she humiliated us and threatened to take action against us if he skipped class and came to her office,” said Sanusha.
In early September, the government appointed a non-Kannada speaker to teach social science in the Kannada division of Government Higher Secondary School in Udma. Parents and students protested.
At least six Kannada medium schools in Kasaragod district have ineligible teachers, and Kannada students are fighting a losing battle against the system. “The education officials said we should accommodate the teacher because the job is his livelihood. Then what about us! All of us failed in our Onam exam,” said Sanusha.
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