A success story 100 Years of Teaching German in India

Celebrating 100 years of teaching German
Celebrating 100 years of teaching German | Photo: Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi

It all started in the year 1914. The first German lessons in India were imparted in Pune and Mumbai. A hundred years later in 2014, most of the celebrations to mark the centenary, also took place in these cities. On the hundredth anniversary of teaching German in India, let us take a look at the history, progress achieved and prospects for the language.

The year 2014 was replete with anniversary celebrations.  Besides workshops by German language Authors, an exhibition, concerts, a music, dance and theatre festival, numerous lectures and symposia on German; there were a series of events focussed especially on the school and college students of the language.  The students displayed their knowledge of German language and culture in a Quiz on Germany, an essay contest, a cooking competition on dishes from Germany, Switzerland and Austria and a singing competition. “It was great teamwork and a lot of job satisfaction,” recognized Savita Kelkar, member of the organising committee of the year.  By ‘teamwork’ she implied the collaborative effort put by the University of Pune, the University of  Mumbai, the German Embassy, the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, the Indo-German Teachers Association (InDaF), DAAD and the Goethe Institute, all of whom were involved in planning of the anniversary year.

"The centenary of teaching German is a remarkable jubilee and an indicator of the sustainability of mutual interests, and indeed the fascination which India and Germany have long had for each other,” said Alicia Padrós from Goethe Institute, New Delhi.
 
One of highlights of planned events was a rally across Pune right at the beginning of the year.  Several hundred school and college students and teachers marched through the city, to draw attention to the anniversary.  “It was a huge task, when I organised the rally,” reflected back Savita Kelkar, “taking so many students on the road and managing them efficiently was just a lot of work, but I could do it successfully with the help of several people.”

Home-comers from Germany

It is not a coincidence that the events mainly took place in Pune and Mumbai, for here were the origins of teaching German as the first German lessons ever in India were given here 100 years ago.
 
In all started in Pune with a home-comer from Germany:  the linguist Pandurang D. Gune who returned to his homeland in 1913 after obtaining a doctorate from the University of Leipzig.  In 1914, he started passing on his acquired knowledge and enthusiasm for the German language to the students of New English School in Pune, beginning with an 8th grade student.  A little later, he also started taking lessons at the prestigious Fergusson College, which like the New England School, belonged to the Deccan Education Society. 
 
In addition to the Fergusson College, which in those days was affiliated to the University of Bombay, the classes began in Mumbai also in the year 1914, initially at St. Xavier’s College.  The college had been founded by a German Jesuit in 1869, and in 1914 the first German lessons were also conducted by German Jesuits.  German was offered as a part of the subject “modern European languages.”  In 1918, the first three candidates successfully passed the German language exam.
 
In the 1930s, German was also introduced as an optional subject for students of Masters in Science. After the Second World War, under Professor R.V. Paranjape who taught from 1947 to 1974, German studies expanded significantly and degrees in German language and literature were offered.  In 1965, a German section was built in the then newly established foreign language department.  Since 2003, there exists an independent German department.  Today, under the leadership of Prof. Vibha Surana, the department offers a complete range of academic degree programmes

Momentum in Pune

In Pune too, the study of German flourished progressively.  In 1924, the Fergusson College introduced German language and literature as a major subject and therefore, in addition to the study of the language, German literature and history were also being taught.  Over the years, many other schools and colleges in Pune introduced German lessons, for example S.P. College in 1939.  The first graduate of German language and literature studies in Pune went to Kolhapur to teach German at Rajaram College.  Even then, across most parts of India, German initially remained an exotic subject.
 
In the 1950s, the positive momentum gained further impetus.  In 1953, the University introduced evening courses in German so as to attract working professionals in addition to college students.  In 1955, the “Poona University German Association” was established as a society which cultivated interest in German language and culture through lectures, seminars, exhibitions and film screenings.
 
Next, in 1958, the University of Pune appointed two lecturers for German Language and Literature.  Kurt Jankowsky and Heinz Schrader were the first deputed lectors of DAAD.  In the 1960s, the first research work was documented.  “From this time onwards, the German language continued to gain popularity,” remarks Savita Kelkar, who teaches German at Fergusson College.  The records of post-graduate courses at the University of Pune confirm that the number of students pursuing Masters and Doctorate are continuously increasing since the introduction of these courses.
 
Presently, the University of Pune offers a whole series of various certificates and diplomas in German including “Commercial German” and “German Translation”.  This also catered to the needs of various German firms that have established themselves in regions in and around Pune city.

“The German genius”

The organisers of the anniversary events explained that apart from the personal enthusiasm and dedication of individuals, there were also historical circumstances conducive for the establishment of German studies.  When it came to foreign languages, German was a welcome change from the language of English colonial masters.  Linguistically and culturally, one would learn more from Europe than what the British had brought along.
 
German was also a choice as many poets and philosophers such as Friedrich Schlegel, Hermann Hesse, Georg Forster and foremost among them - Max Mueller had been engaged with India, with great respect or admiration.  This strengthened the good relationship and mutual interests between the two countries.  “In return, India always admired and recognized the German genius in philosophy, music, science and technology, said the anniversary’s website “punegermancentenary.com”. 
 
Mentioned above, Max Mueller is considered to be the co-founder of modern Indology and Sanskrit studies.  The Goethe Institutes which were established in India in the late 1950s and in 1960s were also initially named after him.  In 1957, the first “Max Mueller Bhavan” was inaugurated in Kolkata. It was then opened in 1959 in Delhi, in 1960 in what was then Madras (now Chennai) as well as in Bangalore, in 1962 in Pune and in 1969 in Bombay, Mumbai as known today.
 
The teaching of German in those days was still in its infancy across India, the advancements in Pune and Mumbai being rather exceptional. The esteemed Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi opened its “Centre for German Studies” in 1971.  “To learn the German language let alone to study German language and literature, was for long something exceptional and interested an absolutely minority,” reports Alicia Padrós, the Head of Educational Services, Goethe Institute in Delhi.

Slowly, it will catch up

The “Max Mueller Bhavans” have been, in the course of recent years, more and successful.  In the year 2000, there were about 8,000 students across all centres.  This count increased to 25,000 in 2013.  “The numbers in the last few years have steeply increased and would climb further when we will have more classrooms and teaching staff,” comments Alicia Padrós describing the boom.
 
The schools present a similar picture.  In 1995, there were 9,500 school students nation-wide studying German.  By the year 2000, the count had increased to 12,800 (in 60 schools), 14,900 students (in 136 schools) in 2005 and 18,550 (in 144 schools) in 2010.
 
After school students, learners of German came from colleges and universities. By the year 2000, about 50 universities had introduced German courses or German degree programs. The number of German learning students stabilised at around 4,500 out of which more than 200 were German language and literature students.  Between 2005 and 2010, the figures again increased to 11,100.
 
When one adds the language school students too, the overall number of German learners grew from 17,900 (in 2000) to 21,740 (in 2005) and to 31,590 (2010).  One reason for the increasing popularity of the German language is the realization that English alone is no longer sufficient in the booming Indian economy to ensure good opportunities in the job market. Germany is anyways the main trading partner of India in the EU.  “Many German companies have their presence here and interest in German culture and technology is very high,” says Markus Biechele, Director Language Programmes India and South Asia, Goethe Institute.
 
Learning German serves to not only further the career opportunities of school and college students but also boosts Indo-German friendship.  This has also been strengthened by the exchange programmes initiated by various schools and colleges. For instance, the students of the tradition-rich Fergusson College have been, for years, guests of schools in Kaarst and Heilbronn.  The Mumbai University also offers exchange programmes with Göttingen, Hamburg, Augsburg, Köln and Klagenfurt.  More and more students are going to Germany.  As per DAAD, their numbers have trebled between 2002 and 2012, from 1800 to 5,745.
 
When one compares globally, the German language does not command the same importance in India as in other countries.  For instance, in countries like Russia and Poland with much smaller populations, the number of German learners is over 2 million.  The most comparable is China with around 40,000 German learners (as of 2010) with a likewise population of over 1 billion people.

Exploding school enrolments

A decision promised a big jump in school enrolments.  The chain of state run schools called Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) introduced German as the first foreign language to be taught in schools (English is not considered a foreign language).  “German in 1000 schools” is the name and target of the project.  “The introduction of the German language was a direct consequence of the fact that two KVs were included in PASCH network.” elucidated Alicia Padrós.  PASCH schools have a special bond with Germany and work in close collaboration with German institutions such as Goethe Institute.
 
The project had a good start and actually catapulted the number of students to top figures.  By the year 2014, 500 KV schools had introduced the language, thereby increasing the number of KV students learning German to 78,000.  The Goethe Institute had its hands full with finding and training those interested in teaching German – Indian universities had so far no German teacher training programmes. The KV project was the key reason why the Goethe Institute reached a record count of 107,000 students in 700 schools in the last nation-wide count in the autumn of 2014.
 
The upswing seems to have but abruptly stopped.  The new Indian government has decided to make Sanskrit or any other Indian language again mandatory as the third language to be taught to Grades 6 to 8 in the KVs instead of German.
 
Right now, ways are being sought to somehow continue what has already commenced.  German should at least be continued to be offered as an optional subject.  The German ambassador Michael Steiner told Deutsche Welle, “The solution must be ‘as well as,’ and I think that is how everyone here in India also sees it. On the one hand, while people are interested in maintaining tradition, which is completely justifiable, on the other hand they also want to promote the economy.  I think it is perfectly legitimate for the young people to say that learning a language like German helps me in my education and also professionally.”

Although the number of German learners in secondary schools might decline initially due to the Government’s decision, the interest in German universities and companies, in German technology and know-how and with it in the German language continues to grow strongly.  And therefore, there exists good reason to be confident that in the next 100 years, learning German in India will be a success story.