As Pawan Vilaspure (36) slows down his Honda City for the traffic light, his seven-year-old daughter Arya informs him that the set of black-and-white stripes painted on the road is called a “zebra crossing”.
The businessman is hearing the phrase for the first time.
Vilaspure is the beneficiary of many such minor revelations as he drops his daughter off to school every day.
She studies at Kids’ Paradise, this town’s only alternative education school, a private English-medium one where she
studies phonetics, logical reasoning, general knowledge and math — all in English.
Next week, she will go on a “field trip” to the Sangli museum — another new phrase for him. It is a place he has never visited in the nearly four decades that he has lived in this town — the district headquarters nearly 400 km southeast of Mumbai.
“Our family is filled with successful businessmen, doctors and engineers, but they still lack the confidence to go beyond Sangli because they don’t know English too well, and even if they do, their accents are very pronounced,” says Vilaspure, who owns an Internet café and several small shops here. “In my daughter, I already see a confidence that I still lack.”
Among the sugarcane fields of Sangli district in Western Maharashtra are sprouting a first generation of English learners who read Enid Blyton and speak English with the inflection of their big-city counterparts.
Their wealthy parents, all from government-run Marathi medium schools themselves, want their children to be as confident as their urban brethren too, so that they can hope to go to the same universities abroad and compete for the same jobs.
The District Information System for Education, a central government system that collects school data nationwide, shows a dramatic shift to private English-medium schools in Tier III towns in Maharashtra.
Overall enrolment in schools — from Class 1 to 8 — has gone up by less than 1 percent, but in private schools, which are mostly English-medium, enrolment has jumped by 50 per cent.
In 2007, enrolment in these private schools in the state rose from 9 lakh the previous year to 13.69 lakh.
In Sangli, over the same period, the jump in enrolment in private schools was as dramatic — rising from 10,590 students to 16,892.
This large jump shows that, apart from new enrolments, several children are moving to private schools, mainly in order to learn English well.
“All government schools here are Marathi-medium, so if we want our children to learn English, we have to send them to expensive private schools,” says Atul Rajopadhya (40), an accountant who shifted his seven-year-old daughter from a Marathi-medium to an English-medium private school.
“If the government understands that even our children need to learn good English and starts English-medium schools, then we will save a lot of money.”
The yoga expert realised the importance of the language when he was asked to be part of delegation of yoga teachers going to the US.
His poor grasp of English ensured that he could not go. And he didn’t want his child to be hindered in the same manner.
“Now, I will learn English from her,” he says.
Even private schools that follow the state board syllabus now go the extra mile with English.
The Cambridge English School in Sangli district, for instance, teaches students more English texts than the state board syllabus prescribes.
Here, Class 7 students read Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield and learn about principal clauses, none of which is part of the prescribed syllabus.
“Students in cities are already exposed to English before they join school because of their environment, but we have to start from scratch,” says the principal, Christina Rajeev. “The school even conducts tests for these additional English subjects to see if the student’s foundation is strong. In Sangli, it will be the children exposing parents to English.”