TEACHERS and politicians have slammed the decision to scrap GCSE and A-level examinations in Gujarati, Punjabi and Bengali, warning it will be detrimental to economic ties between India and other countries.
It follows the announcement by exam boards AQA and OCR, which will also abolish language qualifications in Polish, modern Hebrew, Turkish, Portuguese, Dutch and Persian.
A-levels in Bengali and Punjabi are being axed, but will still be offered at GCSE level. However, Gujarati is being dropped altogether.
Both the exam boards responsible for the measure have said they are making the cuts by 2017 because of changes to exam assessments and a shortage of experienced examiners needed to set
and mark papers.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt told Eastern Eye: “The government’s decision to allow the scrapping of these exams is a really retrograde step.
“They are important qualifications, both for speakers in the community but also for the outward-looking trade in the multicultural country that Britain needs to be in the 21st century.
“They are important for our export economy, they are important for the south Asian community and modern multicultural Britain.
“This is enormously detrimental to the strong economic, cultural and social ties between Britain and India. Having strong proficiencies in these languages is about building the new relationship between India and Britain, and that is built on linguistic ties as well as cultural, social and historic ones.”
Hunt added that if elected, a Labour government would act swiftly to “show some political leadership” on the issue to retain the qualifications.
Uma Kumaran, Labour candidate for Harrow East, said she had been approached by more than 100 residents concerned about the measure. She visited Stanmore Temple with Hunt on Tuesday
(31), where Gujarati has been taught to pupils since 2006.
In total, 625 students sat a GCSE exam in Gujarati last year. While only 19 pupils achieved an A-level in the subject, 167 students sat Punjabi A-level and 42 Bengali A-levels were gained in 2014.
Daxa Parmar, a Gujarati and Sanskrit teacher based in Leicester, told EE: “It would do a great disservice to these languages, especially for UK-born children or anyone who wishes to uphold
their mother tongue, or indeed learn it as a career choice and have it recognised as an educational qualification. All languages should have equal status at all levels in the education system.”
During a debate in the House of Commons last Wednesday (25), Nick de Bois, Tory MP for Enfield North, said the decision would put at risk the UK’s trade, diplomatic and cultural relationships with many future economic success stories.
“We are seeking to deliver on the government’s pledge and target to build exports across the globe and to maintain strong trading arrangements with the EU. We will, therefore, need fluent, well-educated people to build our relationships with Turkey, Poland, Iran, Bangladesh and other countries. We will need language skills to do business with many of those countries,” he said.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour MP from Leicester South, added: “In Leicester, these languages are not lesser taught – Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali and Arabic qualifications are sat by hundreds of students every year. He [de Bois] has hit the nail on the head. If we want to expand trade, rather than getting rid of these qualifications, we should be encouraging schools to offer them, in addition to the madrassahs, temples and community organisations that currently offer them in Leicester.”
A spokeswoman from exam board OCR said new changes had resulted in the biggest wave of educational reforms in a generation, with A-level exams changing to include speaking and listening as well as reading and writing tests.
She added: “OCR has offered Gujarati for a number of years, but low and declining demand in comparison to many of our other qualifications – plus a shortage of experienced examiners –
means regrettably that we will not be developing qualifications in Gujarati for teaching in 2017.”
However, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “Our reforms do not stop exam boards developing robust qualifications in any language they choose as long as they are high quality, demanding and academically rigorous. It is down to exam boards to decide which languages they want to offer as reformed A-levels. But we will be raising concerns about non-traditional languages with the boards.”
EE requested an interview with education secretary Nicky Morgan but was turned down.
A Conservative party spokesman said: “By including modern languages as part of our EBacc qualification, it is clear that the Conservatives know how important it is that students study languages as part of a broad curriculum that universities and employers value.”
A spokesperson from AQA said: “We completely understand and respect the importance of these languages, and we still intend to offer all of them at GCSE. With language A-levels changing to include speaking and listening as well as reading and writing, it’ll be extremely difficult to recruit enough examiners in these subjects to cope. In addition, the small number of students choosing to study these subjects at A-level makes it very hard to set appropriate grade boundaries.”