Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy made a strong case to treat English as an Indian language and encourage it, as he believes that graduates who lack proficiency in the language lose out in the job market.
Murthy, a doyen of the Indian IT industry, spoke to Moneycontrol on India marking 30 years of economic reforms. He cited the focus on English as one of the steps needed to help India progress faster towards its ambition of becoming a $5 Trillion economy 2025.
"First, despite the large population in the country, the number of people with employable skills , whether it is programmers, engineers, scientists, doctors, factory workers, or artisans are few. This is because our education system has not focused on using classroom learning to solve real world problems", he said.
He called for opening up of the education sector as one of the measures to address the skill gap.
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"The need of the day is to invite top universities, secondary schools, skill-based schools like the nursing school and vocational institutions from the developed world to establish their operations here in India, to train teachers in these areas in large numbers. That's the first thing we have to do."
His second suggestion was to bring the focus back on English as the official link language in a country as diverse as India.
"Whether we like it or not, the only official link language for the college-educated people in India is English. I know several youngsters here in Bangalore, who have completed their degrees in vernacular, but were forced to take up jobs at a much lower level than they deserve, due to their inability to speak English reasonably fluently."
He added that mobility of labour at a higher level is possible only if we focus on improving our English.
"Our exports in general and our software exports in particular will suffer hugely if we abandon this precious thing called English. It is time that we accepted English as an Indian language and encourage it as any other Indian language" he asserted.
Murthy's third suggestion was flexibility for organisations to hire and let go of employees, a move he said would help in accelerated growth.
"We need to create a safety net fund for the retrenched employees so that they can get an acceptable allowance for a reasonable period when searching for their next job."
He also said that India needs to create incentives for states to perform better, citing China's example, where governors of provinces used to have two key performance indicators- incremental annual growth in exports in US Dollars and jobs created in millions.
Language has often been a touchy subject in India. The National Education Policy, introduced in 2020, for example recommended that all students will learn three languages , of which 2 must be indigenous languages. This was interpreted as a means of imposing Hindi by non-Hindi speaking states such as Tamil Nadu and earned a lot of flak.
In Karnataka for instance, the state government made it mandatory a few years ago for all schools and boards to teach Kannada as one of the languages at the primary level.
The DMK's opposition to Hindi in Tamil Nadu over the decades, ironically gave English a boost and ultimately helped the state become a hub for IT and BPO jobs. India's competitive edge in the outsourcing industry, which today has a size of $194 Billion and accounts for 8 percent of GDP, is in large parts due to its English proficiency, apart from its software and coding chops.