Kolkata: Asked to write about his summer holidays as part of his English examination, one student of Class VI in a Kolkata school began: "My smmr hldys were grt. I rly enjoyed them". (My summer holidays were great. I really enjoyed them)."
City schools - as elsewhere in the country - are alarmed at the use of "texting lingo" in answer scripts, and measures are being taken to force students to use regular English in their answer scripts by introducing penal measures like deduction of marks.
Almost half the urban children in India now have access to mobile telephony; it is no surprise that the "textese" problem is peculiar to students in cities. A survey by a leading telecommunications company showed that 69 million children under the age of 18 reside in the country's urban areas and a whopping 30 million have a mobile handset.
The survey also shows that children born between 1994 and 2004 (8-18 year olds) will soon be spending more time on mobile than watching TV.
"It is deplorable, the way English is being destroyed. We can prevent the use of mobiles during school hours, but beyond that, it is up to the guardians and parents," Sharmila Bose, principal, Birla High School for Girls, told IANS.
"It surely is steadily creeping up as a problem; we have to take recourse to deducting marks. Unless we are strict, the students just won't learn," Bose said.
Among the words frequently used are: frnd (friend), wntd (wanted) smmr (summer) gn8 (good night), GR8 (great)and thnx (thanks).
While mobiles are prohibited in schools, teachers feel parents and guardians must regulate their use at homes too, and persuade their wards not to use "textese" even while chatting on mobile or the internet.
"Students these days are hooked to mobiles and the internet. It is essential that they are persuaded not to use such language even while interacting informally," Mukta Nain, principal, Birla High School for Boys, told IANS.
Nain, however, does not favour deducting marks for using SMS lingo before giving the students the chance to rectify their mistakes.
"Deducting marks for such mistakes is the last resort. We have been trying to tell them that using such abbreviated words is actually destroying language. But, then, if they don't learn, we will have to be strict," Nain said.
But is technology alone to blame for the declining ability in writing? Noted academic Sunando Sanyal says teachers and parents cannot escape blame for falling literary ability.
"Technology is now an indispensable part of life and you have to live with its pros and cons. The onus is on teachers and parents. Schools must deal with the "textese" problem strictly; otherwise the problem will get compounded with time," Sanyal told IANS.
Parents too are worried by their children's use of the English language.
"It is hard to decipher the words my son uses. He and his friends have almost a language of their own, and it is also reflecting in his answer sheets. I now have got a private tutor to teach him spelling as he keeps on misspelling," one harried mother said.
Sociologist Bipul Bhadra feels it is best that children are kept away from cell phones until they first learn the basic grammar and begin to use English or other languages with some felicity.
"It may sound impractical, but unless there is prohibition on SMSing and internet chatting, the problem cannot be cured," Bhadra says.
The problem is not confined to children in India who learn English as a second language apart from the mother tongue. A leading British daily found that teenagers in the UK too are abandoning basic grammar and punctuation and resorting to text message slang in A-levels and the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examinations.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)