UK shadow minister Gareth Thomas is calling for government action on the level of support and investment into the teaching of Indian languages such as Gujarati, Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil and Hindi for students in Britain.
The Labour Party MP has argued that as the UK seeks to develop closer trade and security relationships with a fast-growing economy like India, the ability to speak the country’s main languages is crucial. Official figures show that between 2013 and 2023, the number of students studying these languages has drastically reduced, with Gujarati GCSEs facing a decline of 42 per cent, Bengali 58 per cent and Urdu a drop of 16 per cent.
Gareth Thomas said: “We are witnessing a decade of decline in the number of students taking up South Asian languages at a GCSE level because of the failure of this Conservative government to invest in these communities and their crucial languages.
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“As we seek to negotiate trade deals with the world’s fastest growing economies like that of India it is of critical importance that the government invests in these important South Asian languages.”
With a large Indian diaspora, of around 1.8 million, the UK already has a solid foundation to building more cultural and business links between the UK and India. What is holding this back is the lack of a wider understanding in the UK of South Asian languages, believes the member of Parliament for Harrow West who has campaigned on this issue for long.
He added: “Currently the learning of South Asian languages sits largely on the shoulders of the diaspora community through temples, mosques and weekend schools. The diaspora community’s efforts are remarkable, but they need greater support from government.
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“Other languages that were in decline such as Mandarin and Latin have been given targeted government support. South Asian languages need similar support.”
He points out that at present, there has been no funding provided directly for the teaching of Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, Sinhalese, Tamil, Pashto and Dari in the last five years.