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BY SONYA HERRERA
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Palo Alto school board is under pressure to add Hindi — which is spoken by 300 million people in India — to the foreign language courses taught in the schools.
The school board heard from eight residents on Tuesday night (Dec. 10) who want the language added.
“Hindi is not a local language,” Mohan Gummalam, parent of two students at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, said after the meeting. “It’s an international language.” Gummalam said he had contacted a board member about the matter a year ago but never got a response. Gummalam did not want to name the official.
“It’s a language that’s spoken by 300 million people,” Gummalam said. “People in India have to use Hindi to converse with each other.”
Rachna Dhir, a Palo Alto resident and substitute teacher, said that times are changing and the time has come to add Hindi as a language taught in the district.
“The time has come. The time is now,” Dhir said, quoting Dr. Seuss.
Several languages are taught at Palo Alto’s middle and high schools including American Sign Language, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish.
Gummalam said that currently he and other parents sacrifice their time and money to teach their children Hindi. He said that students also want to learn the language, but they have to pay an “unnecessary tax” to learn it, because it’s not offered as a course in the public schools.
The district would be the first in Santa Clara County to offer Hindi as a high school foreign language course. Several universities, including Stanford and UC-Berkeley, offer Hindi as an undergraduate course.
Sonia Taneja, who teaches Hindi at Stanford, said she doesn’t know of any high schools that offer the language for course credit.
“I definitely see the value of Hindi being offered at any level,” Taneja said. “India has become a global economy. Knowing the local language — especially Hindi, which is so broadly spoken in the Indian subcontinent — the importance cannot be underestimated.”
‘Limited international value’
Some residents don’t think Hindi should be added as a language. Palo Alto resident Khaled Bizri said that Hindi should not be considered an international language.
“It is spoken by less than a third of the population of India,” Bizri said. “Hindi is neither the language of commerce nor that of diplomacy. … It is a language of limited international value to pass to our younger generation.”
Bizri added that he was surprised that Palo Alto’s two public high schools teach Japanese.
Hindi is the most common language in India, which is the seventh-largest and fastest-growing economy in the world, according to Investopedia. Indian Americans also represent a growing portion of the Bay Area population.
More than 168,000 Indian Americans lived in Santa Clara County in 2017, up from about 123,000 in 2010, according to census data.
Bollywood spread language
Taneja said economic and cultural influences, such as Bollywood films, have spread the language across the world. She added that learning Hindi allows students to conduct more thorough research among Indian populations on the continent and worldwide.
“Knowing the language gives you a special way of connecting with these subjects,” Taneja said.
On Wednesday (Dec. 11), the school district released instructions in the superintendent’s newsletter on how to create a new course.
There are at least three steps. First, residents must submit new courses, or at least course concepts, to a school principal. Next, the principal submits the course to the Education Services Division of the district. That division reviews, evaluates and assigns resources to the course, and then gives it to the district’s board to approve.
Once the district approves the course, it can be taught, as long as it reaches minimum enrollment levels. Residents should submit new courses to school principals by November so that they can be approved by early January, according to Superintendent Austin.
Victoria Maya, the superintendent’s administrative assistant, said it’s too soon to tell how much adding a Hindi class would cost.
The board approved four new courses at Tuesday’s meeting.