A few years ago when Sneha Paranjpe and her husband had to decide on their daughter’s school, they weighed the options. A Marathi-medium school seemed the natural choice, given their mother tongue and own educational background, but in the end, English-medium won.
“There weren’t many Marathi-medium schools nearby. Also, we thought the quality of an English-medium education would be better,” said Paranjpe.
One family’s dilemma tells the story of a larger, institutional decline. While student numbers in Marathi-medium schools have been dropping, now even well-known schools such as Sharadashram Vidyamadir in Dadar and Parle Tilak Vidyalaya face shrinking classrooms.
The numbers that enrolled in class I at Borivli’s Suvidyalaya Prasarak Sangh’s three Marathi-medium schools fell by nearly 200 students, while at Sharadashram Vidyamadir the number dropped by 240. In 2005-06, Sharadashram reduced the number of divisions in every class in its primary section from 16 to 12. At Parle Tilak Vidyalaya enrolment has fallen by around 20 per cent over the past four years.
One reason for this decline is a shift in the Marathi population. As buildings in the schools’ vicinity are redeveloped, original residents have moved out. Schools affiliated to other boards and other-medium schools have now risen to prominence.
“With redevelopment, the entire locality changed and the students who came to our school started choosing other medium schools,” said Shrinivas Nerurkar, secretary, Sharadashram Vidyamandir Trust.
The government’s failure to pay non-salary dues and the dearth of teachers entering these schools has also compounded the problem. As also the fact that aided schools cannot charge additional fees for development. “If we at least get the non-salary grants from the government on time, we can give additional facilities to our students,” said Dwarkadhish Joshi, secretary, Suvidya Prasarak Sangh. A crucial factor has been the social value attached to English-medium education, say schools. They are trying to cater to these needs. Some such as Balmohan Vidyamandir in Dadar have introduced additional coaching in English to help students come on par with those from other mediums.
As an acknowledgement of the issue and to stem the exodus of students from Marathi-medium schools the state government passed a resolution last August allowing schools to turn ‘semi-English’. This meant that they could teach mathematics and science in English from classes I to IV from 2010.
The crucial place of mother-tongue education, especially in the early years, has long been upheld. It has also been enshrined in the Right To Education Act.
“The understanding of concepts is tied up with language,” said J Abhyankar, former state project director of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. “Children understand the basics far better when learning is in a language they are comfortable with.”
Shubhada Chaukar whose daughter studies in class 6 at a Marathi-medium school attests to the efficacy of a mother-tongue education. “My daughter does not have to struggle to understand the language first and the concepts later as she studies them in her mother tongue,” said Chaukar, who is also one of the founders of Mitra Marathi Shalanche (Friends of Marathi-medium Schools). “She understands the concepts better as the whole culture of language comes into play in her process of learning.”
To arrest the downward slide, some say, parents need to be reoriented first. “Parents are attracted towards English-medium schools, so it is important to sensitise them so that their attitude changes,” said Abhyankar.
Added Joshi: “Education technology that is being developed also needs to be developed in Marathi to give an edge to students.”