What can we learn from Smriti Irani

Goodbye German! India's government doesn't want any foreign languages

NEW DELHI. A culture war is raging in Indian schools - and German is right in the thick of it. The traditionalists, supported by the government, want to teach the children Sanskrit. But they would rather learn the "language of research and teaching".


It was a big plan: by 2017, one million Indians should be able to speak German. But the project can be considered a failure. Only a few years after German lessons were introduced at hundreds of state schools, the foreign language was removed from the curriculum there. Around 79,000 pupils recently learned German at the Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) school chain, which is attended mainly by civil servants and soldiers' children.

The decision was made shortly after a Hindu nationalist government took over in New Delhi. The new education minister, Smriti Irani, suddenly declares that Indian students can only learn Hindi, another regional language and English - which is not a foreign language. German is not there. "That is against the constitution," says Irani.

A snub for Germany - after all, the contract for this was signed in 2011 by the KV schools and the Goethe Institute, in the presence of state secretaries from both countries. The federal government has invested more than two million euros in the project. And both Federal President Joachim Gauck and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier were greeted by students in German when they visited India.

The German ambassador to India can currently be seen almost every day on Indian television in order to save what can still be saved. Michael Steiner persistently advertises a “practical solution”. For example, German could be continued as a hobby subject or, after learning three languages, taught as a further option in higher classes.

But the subcontinent has long been about more than just German lessons. Deep trenches become visible in the vast country that is changing at breakneck speed. On the one hand, there are the traditionalists who would rather promote the sacred language Sanskrit for Hindus. On the other hand, there are modernizers who want to make their children fit for a globalized world.

"Nowadays there is no longer any use for Sanskrit", complains about the lawyer Ashok Aggarwal, who also heads a nationwide parents' organization. "With that you can only talk to the priest in the temple." India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels the globe and appears cosmopolitan, but at home he plays a different game. "That endangers our development."

The Goethe Institutes in India, where teachers are being trained for German lessons, are waiting for now. "We're not stopping ongoing courses now," says Alicia Padrós, head of the German educational cooperation in India. After all, around 30,000 pupils learned German at private schools - and the trend is rising. "The current decision does not have to mean a loss for the German language if it gets another, secure place," says Padrós.

But that's not so sure yet. And that despite the fact that Chancellor Angela Merkel recently spoke to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the matter. Because the Sanskrit teachers' association Sanskrit Shikshak Sangh SSS, on whose initiative German was removed from the curriculum of the KV schools, now also wants to take action against foreign languages ​​at private schools.

“No!” Shouted the eleventh graders of the private Delhi Public School in Gurgaon in horror when they heard this. “The students will then miss a great opportunity to understand a little more of the world,” says Aanavi Gupta. At her school on the outskirts of the capital, Sanskrit, German, French, Spanish, Japanese and soon also Mandarin are offered as third languages. German is the most popular, says her classmate Moumita Sen. «Germany is known for research and teaching. In India only what is old is taught, in Germany, on the other hand, what is happening at the moment. " Doreen Fiedler, dpa

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