Last week there was a big furor when the Human Resources Development Minister and Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghatan head Smirti Irani ordered the removal of German as a third language in the schools managed by Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghatan (KVS).
To commemorate the significant event, the Goethe-Institut Chennai/Max Mueller Bhavan and the Indo-German Teachers’ Association are having a conference for teachers of the German language centered on the issues of the Indo-German cultural links in Chennai as well as issues related to teaching the language. There might be some issues and controversies right now but the head of the Language Department of the Goethe Institut, Prabhakar Narayanan focused the attention on German being taught in Indian schools since 1914. German was first taught at Fergusson College in Pune and at the St. Xavier’s College in Bombay.
Earlier exposure in Tamil Nadu
The book “German Tamilogy” by C.S. Mohanavelu stated that the Tamil people were the first to be exposed to the German language. This was due to the arrival of the Protestant missionary Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg in Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu in 1706. While the missionary and his people spread the Gospel, they also learned about the Tamil Nadu people and their language. In turn, the Tamils were the first to master the German language.
Peter Malleiappen, a Tamil scholar, who is thought to be the first Indian to reach Germany, was brought there by Ziegenbalg in 1714. He was able to meet King Frederick IV and the scholar even delivered a speech in German in front of their royal patron and officers of the royal court.
Mr. Narayanan added that German was introduced in Chennai more than 60 years ago by Ellen Sharma. She taught German at the Madras University although there were only a few students who attended her class. Today, Mr. Narayanan said, they have 25,000 students learning German at the Goethe Institut.
In a related news, second year economics student at Delhi University, Madhavi Roy says she had been learning German for seven years and although she has yet to set foot on German soil, she knows about the country’s economy, politics and culture. She refused to be drawn to the current language controversy and firmly believes that learning a foreign language will be beneficial to students in their business careers in the future. She also believes that students have the right to choose which new language, especially a foreign language, they want to learn.
While the MoU was discussed by the media, there were only a few who knew that Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhawan runs a program called PASCH the aim of which is to fortify the global network of 1,500 partner schools with German ties. There are 44 PASCH schools in India while there are 12 in Delhi and four in Mumbai. An additional 120 schools also teach German to their students.
In previous years, students learnt German so they could go to Germany to seek employment. Today the situation has been reversed are there are more than 150 companies in India that are looking for expert German speakers. They also aim to enroll at tuition-free universities in Germany, which is why they are now taking German classes as early as in Grade 4.