The Hindu reported two days ago:
English must be taught from first standard, and parents of children going to government schools in the urban areas do not agree with the Kannada Sahitya Parishat's view that it should be taught only from third standard, the Federation of Educationists and Social Organisations has said.
Starting English from the first standard is a very sensible thing to do. The report cites some research findings:
Quoting Noam Chomsky, Nataraj Huliyar of Gramarajya Vedike said children at the age of five are capable of learning three to four languages. Studies by Romain, Dryden and Genet Vos have recently proved that children exposed to more languages show better ability in learning various subjects. "With this advantage, students in private schools who start learning English at three are proficient by the time they reach fourth standard. Whereas government school children learn English only when they are in fifth standard, and they lose out on seven years, Mr. Nataraj said.
I too have read about these findings in one of those 'how to raise children' type books we received as a gift when our son was born. It clearly said children can learn several languages without any problem, as long as the persons speaking to the child consistently stick to their respective languages.
We have seen it with our child, as well as with the children in our neighbourhood (we live inside the IISc campus, and our environment is quite cosmopolitan): the language spoken at home, the common language among the children (English) and the language of the baby sitter (usually, Kannada, but sometimes, Hindi or Tamil) are often not the same, and by the age of three or four, children pick up these three languages effortlessly. [It still leaves the rather open question of whether they are able to build on their facility with languages to read and write and become proficient in them. This question is usually resolved by the parents in favour of just those languages that their children 'need'].
Moreover, children who are transplanted in another society (like when a faculty member and his/her family spend a sabbatical year in, say, Germany) at a young age -- say, between three and seven -- have no difficulty at all in picking up that new language. Again, I have seen it with our colleagues' children who have gone through this experience.
So, all this presupposes that the language teacher is good. This is where I believe there is serious difficulty, particularly when it comes to government schools. Teaching English through the local language (like my own teachers did in my Tamil medium schools in Chennai) just will not do. Therefore, IMHO, the people who made these sensible demands to the Karnataka government should also demand that good language teachers are recruited.
When politicians oppose early exposure to other languages -- and English, in particular -- we attribute it to chauvinism, and say 'well, you can't expect them to know/say/do any better'. Now, what is it about the intellectual/artist types in our Sahitya Akademies and Parishats (not just in Karnataka, but elsewhere, too) that makes them do the same thing, which then allows the politicians to claim a certain intellectual legitimacy to their chauvinistic stand?