During my time in India, I was fortunate to visit 5 of the 29 states: Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. I visited schools in three of those states: Karnataka, Kerala, and Delhi and while in the schools I was struck by the variety of languages being taught in schools. There are 122 major languages in India and the country has 22 'scheduled' languages. (A scheduled language is one that is recognized, given official status, and encouraged by the government.) The official government languages are Hindi and English. What this all means for Indian schools is that many students are learning three languages all the way through both primary and secondary school. In Bangalore, students were learning Kannada, the local language, plus English and Hindi. In Malapurram at my host school, the students were learning Malayalam, the local language, as well as English and Hindi.
I've written earlier about my host school, the Kendriya Vidyalaya school in Malapurram and their commitment to global education. It should be no surprise then that their language instruction is another marker of how their students are being prepared to be global citizens. All students at KV Malapurram study Malayalam, Hindi, and English. In fact, the whole school morning assembly alternates between the three languages. So for example, the Monday assembly was in English, on Tuesday it was in Malayalam, Wednesday was in Hindi, and Thursday it was back to English. This means the pledge is recited in three different languages, and announcements are made in three languages depending on the day. KV Malapurram recognizes the benefits of multi-lingualism and realizes that learning another language will help students as this world grows ever more interconnected. It is important to note, however, that KV Malapurram is not exceptional in this regard. We visited a public primary school (pictured above) that was predominantly attended by lower class students. Some students did not have shoes, and during our visit, the school had no power so classes were being taught in murky darkness. Technology at the school seemed to consist of one overhead projector, obviously not working that day due to the lack of power. However, students were nonetheless learning Malayalam, Hindi, and English. (There was also an Urdu language class.) Language instruction in India seems to be considered part of the core curriculum and thus mandatory at all levels and not subject to budget cuts.
Unfortunately, this level of language instruction does not exist in the United States. Only 25% of U.S. elementary schools and 58% of middle schools offer foreign language instruction. In total, only around 20% of Americans report speaking a second language. Clearly, the United States is behind India (and much of the rest of the world) when it comes to language acquisition. As the world grows smaller and the United States becomes more closely tied to the rest of the world, clear communication is essential for understanding, problem solving, and conflict avoidance. However, communication is easier with multiple languages to express yourself and that is something not many U.S. citizens are able to do.