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Anti-English bias hampers middle class

INDIA

Twenty years after the Marxist government of West Bengal abolished English in primary schools, urban middle-class families are pressing for it to be re-introduced.

Parents say that not knowing English is a handicap in an era of globalisation and that their children are at a disadvantage compared with those in private schools where English is taught from the first day.

In the recent parliamentary elections, the ruling Left Front lost five metropolitan seats in Calcutta - the capital of West Bengal - to a fledgeling party which campaigned for bringing English back to primary classes. The government's decision, announced barely a month after the election results, has been welcomed.

In an editorial, the English language newspaper Pioneer said: "Undeniably, Mr Basu (Jyoti Basu, the West Bengal chief minister) has been urged to make this announcement following the unexpected reverses suffered by the ruling Left FrontI But for the moment cynicism must be cast aside and the announcement welcomed for the sake of Bengal's harried middle class."

A controversy, however, has erupted over the choice of Dr Fabitra Sarkar, a former vice-chancellor, as chairman of the commission which would work out the details. Dr Sarker is known for his "anti-English bias".

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