Opposition Labour MP starts drive to stem decline of Indian languages in UK schools
Gareth Thomas, member of Parliament for Harrow West in north London

London: An opposition Labour Party politician is leading a drive to seek government funding to boost the uptake of Indian languages in British schools, with official figures showing a sharp decline in pupils studying Gujarati,Bengali, and Punjabi in recent years.

Gareth Thomas, member of Parliament for Harrow West in north London a prominent Gujarati area of the UK capital, has been campaigning on the issue for years and recently raised it in Parliament with Leader of House of Commons Penny Mordaunt.

He believes dedicated funding, specialist training of teachers, a flagship school programme, support for community schooling and proper training are needed to address the decline.

“Ministers’ failure to invest in these languages is leading to a marked decline in the number of students taking exams,” said Thomas.

“The problems concerning the ongoing political tensions with Russia and China further highlight the need to turbocharge trade with South Asia. Moreover, children learning these languages develop skills which help their performance in other parts of the curriculum,” he said.

The MP pointed to successful community efforts, through temples, mosques, and weekend clubs to help young people learn additional languages but believe more support is needed.

“I urge the government to recognise the need for proper support to help local communities and schools to support young people learn these important languages,” he said.

Between 2015 and 2021, the number of students entering the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) — similar to secondary school board exams in India — in Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Persian, and Urdu drastically reduced.

Gujarati saw the biggest decline with 77 per cent, Bengali at 66 per cent, Punjabi at 45 per cent, Persian at 65 per cent, and Urdu at 37 per cent.

Thomas is calling for all-around attention to improve the learning of languages in the UK in line with Mandarin and Latin receiving some special funding to invest in new teaching.

The Latin Excellence Programme and Mandarin Excellence Programme, backed by around GBP 4 million announced by the UK’s Department for Education (DfE) last year, is aimed at improving the uptake of these languages in schools.

“Similar investment and commitment is needed to kick start a new generation of young people able to communicate with the peoples of South Asia in their own languages to boost trade, open up business opportunities and assist in improving our collective security,” said Thomas.

“The economic growth and rise of the middle class across many South Asian nations highlight the importance of greater cooperation between the UK and the countries in the region,” he said.

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