In Mumbai, some of the best schools that offer the state education board’s curriculum are the institutions managed by the Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE).
The state government does not provide aid to new private schools that have English as t he medium of instruction, but most ABE institutions, because they were set up decades ago, continue to get public grants, making them practically free.
The demand for seats at these schools is so great that an average classroom here is filled with 60- 70 students, and though the ABE would like to make the schools less crowded and bring student numbers closer to the ratio suggested in the Right to Education Act, there has been despair whether politicians will ever allow that.
This is because, during every admission season, local politicians try to wring out seats in these schools.
There are about 150 ABE schools in Mumbai and, despite the growing popularity of national and international education boards, these schools continue to follow the old curriculum.
This is now changing: in the past one decade, there has been a drastic change in the student demography at these schools, with children from well-off families, including Catholic, shifting to private institutions.
The change be g an in the 1990s, and while the decline in the number of children from Catholic families was the result of a lower birth rate and emigration, especially in the suburbs between Bandra and Santacruz, which has a large number of these schools, the decline has now been intensified by t he popularity of other curriculums.
For instance, t he last bacho f kindergarten students admitted t o St Xavier’s High School at Dhobi Talao, one of the oldest in the city, had only a handful of Catholic students, according to Father Francis Swa my, AB E ’ s joint-secretary.
At the 75-year-old school run by the Sacred Heart Church, Santacruz, l ess than a third of t he 150 new students admitted every year are Catholic, and t he number is falling, according to Father Joseph D’Souza, the parish priest.
“Richer families are sending their children to schools that offer the international curriculum.”
ABE has now asked some of its schools to also start a section offering an international curriculum from the next academic year.
Father Swamy said they are concerned by the changes in the demography of their schools.
“The Catholic community set these schools so that their children get both religious and secular education; if the children go to private schools, they will receive no religious education,” said Swamy.
Swamy said there was worry that, without the religious classes that the ABE institutions provide in the form of the Sunday School, the children’s only link to their faith would be a few rituals and sacraments like confir mation and marriage.
The ABE has selected the International General Certificate of Secondary Education ( I GCSE) curriculum, of f ered by t he Cambridge International Examination, as the board has flexible rules on school infrastructure: while other international and national boards require institutions to have exclusive buildings and premises, IGCSE classrooms can be set up in existing schools. Apart from the Santacruz school, St Stanislaus in Bandra, too, was asked to start a new section. “Most of our schools have large campuses, so it will not be difficult to set aside one building or a wing for the IGCSE section,” said Swamy.
The ABE, however, has no plans to discontinue the state board curriculum. “We will always offer the curriculum as long as there are students applying for it,” said Swamy.
At some of the schools, the response to plans for an IGCSE section has not been very good, and this could be because there are well- established schools in t he locality t hat are already offering the curriculum.
“Nowadays, families are not bothered about religious instruction, they are only concerned about the education curriculum,” said Father D’Souza.