Marathi school goes English way to save itself from shutdown

The declining number of students in schools run by the BMC is a cause for concern among officials as it has forced some of the schools to shut down. On the other hand, for teachers offering education in some regional languages, it is a serious threat. Every year in the Indian state of Maharashtra, somewhere around 30 Marathi medium civic schools shut down, thus posing a serious threat to the state-aided education system. But amidst the gloom, one school is on the path to be a role model to give a ray of hope to hundreds of Marathi schools in the state.

The step for the unique experiment has been taken by one of the state’s oldest schools – DS High School, run by Shiv Shikshan Sanstha in Sion, Mumbai. This has left the senior officials of the directorate of education quite surprised because the politicians of the area have merely offered lip service but no real help. All parties have and will yet again play the Marathi pride card (civic elections in Mumbai are slated in Feb 2017), but offer no solution even as Marathi medium aided schools are shutting down fast.

The message is clear – change or perish.

DS High School has 2,750 students in its Marathi division, largely from Sion-Dharavi area, but the aspiration level is very high. Hence, the school recently tied up with Bhakti Shah, a linguistic expert based in Boston, to create a curriculum for its teachers in spoken English. Teachers, in the group of five, will spend two hours each week to attend spoken English classes.

Method of Teaching English: The method will make use of the phonetics with focus on accent neutralization. “Around 35 teachers attend these classes each week and the change is visible,” says Rakesh Damania, a linguistic expert who has been conducting the training programme devised by Shah. “The enthusiasm to learn conversational English in the senior teachers is very high. We start with small phrases, then sentences and we also used a skit format for everyone to perform,” he explained.

However, in the queue of the fake promise making of politicians, there is a guy named Pradhan, an ex-student, is taking some path-breaking decisions – get the school’s global alumni together, approach corporate companies to get funds under CSR to ensure the school survives the private English school onslaught, but also help other Marathi-aided schools nearby.

If the project becomes successful….

The project has been launched ensuring that in the near future the students will start conversing with the students in English and ultimately teach some subjects in English. When the parents were informed about the project, the response thus received was amazing. Moreover, the admissions have not been affected at all. In today’s India, even the poorest parents want their children to learn and speak in English. It is one singular reason for students to opt out of Marathi schools.

Hence rather than facing the shutdown or shattering the dreams of many parents or students who can’t afford to teach their children in private schools, this school decided to work on it with the best linguistic expert for its teachers, with a hope that teachers will eventually start speaking in English with students.

It is not only meant for the teachers but the decision on the part of the management’s decision also prompted the school’s principal, AM Mahadik, to join the spoken English class. Mahadik, a winner of many state awards in education, admitted that it was tough for him to communicate in academic conferences as he is unable to speak in English. So, I’m attending the classes, and I want this project to work.

An analysis

Naresh Rane, 30, shifted his son from a Marathi Medium school to a private one few years back. Though it wasn’t an easy decision for the single-income-double-kid family but it was to be taken. The son used to study in a nearby BMC school which runs from class 1 to 5. However, the quality of teaching there was very poor. Forget overall development, teachers didn’t even bother to complete the syllabus.

Marathi-medium schools have been bearing the brunt when it comes to the enrollment of students. A whopping 38% decline in enrollments was registered in the last five years. The student crunch forced the civic body to shut down or merge 34 schools in Mumbai. In the same period, Gujarati-medium schools faced a 41% decline and enrolments in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada-medium schools declined by 43%, 50% and 36% respectively.

With Marathi medium schools failing to attract kids, the schools are facing the inevitable conclusion – a shutdown. The decline in enrollments has crossed a demoralizing 60 per cent mark. More than 30,000 students have dropped out of civic schools in the past five years, according to a report by Praja Foundation, a non-governmental organization. This is despite the fact that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has a mid-day meal plan and very low fees.

So, will all this eventually work? “Frankly, we neither know, there is an opinion nor an answer. The teachers have to bring in the change in them and pass it on to students. Today, spoken English is a key element for all kids to find a job and progress. They have taken their first step and simultaneously protecting the Marathi culture.”

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