The recent suicide of an engineering student here, who was allegedly taunted by a teacher for not speaking in English, has yet again brought to the fore the plight of students from the Tamil-medium background. First year student P Mahalakshmi was found dead in her hostel room a few days ago.
After the state abolished the Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Examination in 2007 and offered incentives for first generation undergraduate students, more Tamil medium students started joining engineering colleges. Nearly half the students enrolled in engineering colleges in the state hailed from rural areas and completed their schooling in Tamil medium. “In class, I feel tongue-tied and unable to answer even basic questions, although I know the answers. I find myself in a worse situation when classmates and seniors make fun of my spoken English and accent,” rued Saranya Jothi, a BE student from a rural background. “The most difficult part,” she went on, “is to comprehend mathematical equations. While I understand the concepts, it takes me a long time to register symbols and formulae. During the tests, I lose out on speed itself.”
Some teachers also empathised with these students. “Having scored well in Plus Two, they enter engineering colleges on merit. However, they find English to be an obstacle. The ‘technical vocabulary’ turns out to be Greek and Latin for these students. Unfortunately, most teachers take it for granted that all students can comprehend the technical vocabulary,” an Electronics and Communication Engineering professor in the city pointed out. “However, in reality, the shift in the medium of instruction is too abrupt for these students to make quick and suitable adjustments,” he felt.
Nonetheless, senior academics felt that language cannot be a barrier to excelling in technical education. “Actually, the curriculum is not that difficult to comprehend,” according to former Anna University vice chancellor E Balagurusamy. “While communication is a problem, the reproduction of what is learnt should not be a big issue. Many teachers themselves do not speak Shakespearean English. Therefore, the students should not have difficulties in understanding what is taught. Citing language barrier as a reason for suicide is plain absurd,” he contended.