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Crossing barriers with English

Meenal Paranjape’s simple yet effective techniques to teach English in Marathi-medium schools across remote villages like Konkan, as well as poorer areas of Mumbai, have helped thousands of children realise their potential, writes Barney Henderson.

india Updated: Nov 13, 2007 01:46 IST
Barney Henderson

What started as one woman’s quick fix to make sure her daughter did not get left behind for being poor in English has turned into a statewide educational movement.

Meenal Paranjape’s simple yet effective techniques to teach English in Marathi-medium schools have helped thousands of children realise their potential.

Paranjape is a 49-year-old educationist whose welcoming warm manner hides a firm taskmaster intent on achieving excellence for her pupils. She is of average height and build, but her initiative has propelled children well above the average standard.

“I wanted to send my daughter to Parle Tilak Vidyalaya, a Marathi-medium school, because it is vital that a child is educated in his or her mother tongue,” said Paranjape. “There is also some wonderful Marathi literature. Everyone must learn in their own first language — it is their base, their home.”

However, Paranjape was aware of the need for English language skills in this era of globalisation and was worried her daughter would be disadvantaged if she could not speak English, so she taught her at home.

When her daughter Aditi displayed her English skills at school, Paranjape was asked to take a class. And things started changing.

That was 15 years ago. Today, Aditi is a pilot with Jet Airways, and the teaching methods that got her so far have spread across 25 Maharashtrian schools.

Joint Secretary at Parle Tilak Vidyalaya School Y.M. Bapat, said Paranjape had made a huge difference. “She has helped many children progress. Her unique system of teaching English is very effective,” said Bapat.

The programme is aimed at Class III pupils and runs for five years. The target at the end of the course is to pass the Cambridge Flyers Young Learner’s English test and to compete with children from English medium schools.

Paranjape’s techniques use various exercises to instill an understanding of English vowels. There are 13 vowels in Marathi and only five in English, so there are many different pronunciations for a child to get to grips with.

The training is not limited to a privileged few. There are schools in remote villages like Konkan, as well as poorer areas of Mumbai.