Figures obtained from the Department for Education have revealed a steep and alarming decline in the number of students obtaining GCSE qualifications in Indian subcontinent languages, such as Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali and Urdu.
The figures which were sourced from a Written Parliamentary Question by Labour MP Gareth Thomas show an almost 77 per cent decline, since 2015, in students studying Gujarati at GCSE Level and over a 17 per cent decline in those studying Urdu over the same period.
The figures also show dramatic reductions, over the same period, in students obtaining and GCSEs with an over 24 per cent and 43 per cent decline respectively.
These four languages combined are spoken by approximately 480 million people worldwide – roughly estimated as Bengali 230mn, Punjabi 125mn, Urdu 56mn and Gujarati 56mn – and their importance to communities across the UK and indeed their global significance are difficult to overstate, the MP points out.
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Thomas, who represents the constituency of Harrow West in London – with a large British presence – has also flagged in Parliament that Britain appears to be losing the race to increase trade with India, compared to the rest of the G7.
The MP, who led a successful campaign to persuade ministers and Exam Boards to maintain GSCE and A-level language qualifications in community languages, said: “We are seeing a year on year decline in the number of students taking these languages as a result of the failure of ministers to invest in these languages. As we seek to strike trade deals around the world, in particular with large growing economies such as India, British business cannot afford to be losing these important language skills.
“Moreover, children learning these languages develop skills which help their performance in other parts of the curriculum.
“Community efforts, through temples and Saturday clubs, have been great at helping young people learn languages, but Covid has restricted these activities.
“I urge the government to recognise the need to offer proper financial support to help local communities and schools to support young people learn these important languages.”