Why are Marathi medium schools dying?
In a slightly longish post, Arpita Karkarey analyses why Marathi medium schools are at the risk of closing down, and what needs to be done about it. This post can obviously be generalized to any other language – as almost all of the local language based schools in India are facing this grim future.
The government has already decided to close down 12,000 schools across Maharashtra. This impacts around 45,000 teachers who will be laid off. In just the city of Mumbai around 1,500 teachers are at a risk of losing their jobs. Why is this happening? Why are Marathi medium schools dying out?
Marathi medium schools are traditionally the old, established institutions. The schools are all at least 50 to a hundred years old. So far, they have all been very secure in their existence, stable in their foundation and therefore very relaxed about their survival. Many of them have been set up by iconic leaders like Tilak, Agarkar, Paranjape.
In the last thirty years or so, English medium schools started coming up. But the Marathi schools were still going strong. In fact, even then, a lot of aware parents would send their children to Marathi medium schools because they felt it was easier for the children to learn in their mother tongue. All of my uncles and aunts went to Marathi medium schools. Most of my cousins went to Marathi medium schools too. All are doing extremely well in their careers and speak “English” well too. Many of them are leading teams in the USA and UK and going great guns!
The Marathi medium schools once upon a time were really good. Take the case of Huzur Paga. It was such a glorious institute that Jawaharlal Nehru admitted his daughter Indira Gandhi there too. The girls learnt everything – academics, curricular and co-curricular things in the school, though there were no such fancy titles for those things then. NMV, Bhave school, Shardashram, Parle Tilak Vidyalay – all these were schools of extremely high standards.
Back to the issue. The English medium schools that were coming up definitely wanted to survive. Since they had to compete against these very old, almost ivy league institutions, they started by offering something that these old Marathi schools could not – a new look, new teaching methods from the global market, in some cases even those lesson plans and activities in the classroom. Even their uniforms were more, umm, English? They had to – to fight against the established institutions. So, they offered these facilities and some parents consciously chose to send their children to English medium schools. My father was educated in a Marathi medium school, spent a lot of years in the USA, got a PhD in USA, came back to India and admitted me in an English medium school. Why did he admit me in an English medium school? Because the Marathi medium schools somehow seemed stuck in the past at that time.
Learning in an English medium school required extra support. Some parents could offer English help to their children at home. Because of my parents’ exposure, I was one of them. Additionally, my first few years of schooling were in USA so communicating in English was never a problem for me. My mother would constantly have a supply of English story books from the public libraries there that she would read to me. And my parents could speak to me in fluent English at home, even after we came back to India. Many of my classmates did not have this environment at home. Some parents who realized the issue and the need for English support supplemented the learning gap with private tuitions and extra classes after school. But either way, most of the parents had to be proactive in some way or the other, to make sure that the child did not lose out by going to a schooling system that did not teach in the mother tongue. The children who didn’t get that help faltered and children who were getting attention and working hard did well. So, bottom line is, if you are doing things so systematically, then would it really matter if you studied in an English medium school or a Marathi medium school?
Anyway, what was happening in the meantime is that the English medium schools were coming up with more and more attractive facilities and learning systems and teaching aids for the children. How effectively implemented they are is a different question altogether. But they definitely looked very different from the conventional learning systems. This made more and more families look at these schools as the first educational choice for their children. The Marathi medium schools meanwhile did nothing of the sort. They stayed with their old learning methodologies, look and feel and even thought process. They believed that they were perfect and there was no need to change. Families who were aware found the facilities and options offered by English medium schools better for their children’s development and started choosing English medium schools over Marathi consciously. This trend started about 15 years ago.
Now, mostly parents who understood education and its delivery in some way had their children in English medium schools. Most of the aware (and capable?) parents were supporting the children in many ways to help them get by. The English medium schools kept adding in more and more features to attract more and more such aware parents. They did a lot of propaganda about it too! Therefore now a lot of the kids who did well and had better career prospects were from English medium schools. Note that is was not because the merit increased by learning in English, it was because that group of aware people now chose English medium. They were not going to the Marathi medium schools at all. What made these children from English medium schools do well? A professional learning environment – in school and at home. The medium really had nothing to do with their success, though it was interpreted that way. It was the system that helped.
Well, as this happened, the English medium schools started being associated with ‘a bright future’ for the children. Businessmen were smart to catch on to this trend and private English medium schools quickly started mushrooming all over. As all this was happening, the government run and government aided Marathi medium schools were already slacking off. The teachers were extremely secure in their jobs since the infinite rules and red tape made it impossible to monitor their efficiency and performance. They did not feel the need to deliver good education in the classroom. Good teaching was not mandatory.
Now there is a saying – you can fool all people some of the time and some people all of the time, but not all people all of the time. In our cities and our villages, the government schools were delivering so poorly for so long that even the illiterate and uneducated parents didn’t want to buy in. There was simply no future for the children learning there as there was no learning being delivered! As no one could change the way their classrooms were, parents chose to not be associated with them altogether. They chose to admit their children in private schools. As this has started happening lesser and lesser kids are going to Marathi medium schools. And since the parents are paying for it anyway, why not an “English school” which would magically change the child’s future altogether, or so they think?
And how deep rooted and rampant that misconception is! My maid got admission in a high end English medium school that I run, for her granddaughter on account of the new 25% RTE reservation. She was thrilled. She told me now her granddaughter would turn out just like me. I was taken aback. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have been working hard to educate the adults and children of this class as I firmly believe that a good education is their only ticket out of that mess. And I was actually quite touched and flattered that she thought of me as an ideal to follow. So I asked her what she meant by “just like me” and the answer was fluent in English! Now, my maid is a sincere, hardworking soul, but she has no means to give her grandchild that huge huge additional push that children need to understand everything in English. It is finally ‘understanding’ that matters. That develops the language and the thinking and the logic and the analysis. That is what makes a success out of someone. How is just fluency in English important? I asked her to seriously reconsider and go for a Marathi medium school but she was quite adamant on continuing. It’s been just a year and already the family cannot offer any academic assistance at home. The child is just in Jr Kg. The “cow” that used to be a crow is suddenly a four legged animal which used to be “hamma”. She does not relate to a big egg sitting on a wall and falling down and cracking that is the Humpty Dumpty rhyme. She is just parroting a few things back having no idea what they mean and no one at home can help either. Her parents are happy that she can now say “good morning”. What about the understanding of concepts and numeracy and all the other stuff that also should be happening in Kindergarten? There is no environment where the child can pick up English to be that fluent in it so that she can then learn Mathematics, Science, History and Geography through English!
There is a small adivasi village named Pokhri on the way to Bhimashankar. There is one family in that village that I am acquainted with and I would like to share their story with you. No one has gone to school or obtained any formal education in their family for generations together. There are lots of adivasi ashram schools and government schools in the area for many years. The family that I am going to tell you about is really very poor and has always been. Now, they have decided that the only way they can come out of this is if their youngest son now starts getting an English education! So the grandmother catches an ST (as that’s all that’s available and all that she can afford) and travels for 2 hours with her 3 year old grandson all the way to Ghodegaon so that the child can go to an English medium school. She waits under a tree for the three hours that the child attends school. Then she and the child go back home, undergoing another 2 hour journey. Is that English medium school offering really amazing education? Not at all. An already poor family is stretching its meagre finances to pay for school fees and travel when they could have availed of the numerous free facilities in the vicinity. The entire family is convinced that it is all worth it. The feel that once the child knows English, he will be ‘ekdam bhaari’ and you know what the sad part it? Everyone around them believes it to be true. And there are thousands and thousands of stories like this one.
So what is the problem? Almost none of our schools have proper learning systems and efficient delivery mechanisms. Therefore education is not happening. Also most of our population has equated education with the ability to just speak and write English. And if you look at schools closely, in most of them even that is not quite happening. Well, it’s a serious national fix we are in. We are creating an entire generation with no meaningful education!
Suggestions on how we can try and solve this? Put them in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.