13 Oct 2008, 0357 hrs IST, Hemali Chhapia,TNN

In a first, drop in number of students opting for Marathi

MUMBAI: As the middle class wakes up to the opportunities available to the English-literate, the state of Maharashtra has for the first time seen a drop in enrolment in Marathi-medium schools. In itsplace, more students are taking to English.

Data released on Saturday by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration notes that the student population in Marathi-medium schools has fallen from 119.61 lakh to 117.95 lakh, whereas enrolment in English-medium schools has gone up from 11.91 lakh to 15.02 lakh (see box).

The trend is more pronounced in the state’s capital. If there are 4.31 lakh students in Marathi medium schools in Mumbai, there are over a lakh more— 5.57 lakh kids—in our city’s English medium schools.

Mumbai’s municipal schools, which witness an annual exodus of students from Marathi- to English-medium schools, has been forcing the state to think on lines of converting some of its Marathi schools to English medium. "However, that decision has been pending since a year due to political resistance," said a source in the BMC.

On the other hand, Priya Khan of Samarthan, an NGO which works in the area of education, said, "Many private schools like King George have converted some of their Marathi-medium divisions to English. This drift is only going to grow." Socio-linguist Peggy Mohan, who has authored a paper on ‘Is English the language of India’s future?’, believes that control of the discourse of science and technology is what gives a language a hold over the future, not great literature and poetry.

She says there is a transformation taking place even among those not exposed to English: native language words are being replaced with English words, the English chunks then getting larger, until the local language structure is dispensed with. "Somewhere en route, something that is basically Hindi or Marathi is changing into something that is basically English," she said.

Data from the District Information System for Education (DISE) of the HRD ministry suggests that the gap between the native language and English is narrowing. Maharashtra, for one, has seen a dramatic growth in student enrolment in English-medium schools as compared to regional language schools, which forced the state to start English-medium schools.

The drop in enrolment in Marathi medium schools assumes importance. For, though the state saw people leaning towards English years ago, even introducing the subject in native language schools was a political decision.

About eight years ago, the then primary education minister Ramkrishna More had suggested introducing English in Standard I, but the proposal met with fierce opposition and was soon shelved. Five years ago, basic oral English was introduced in Std I. However, written English and an annual examination in the subject were only a part of the Std III syllabus in Marathi medium schools. In 2006, written English was introduced in Marathi medium schools.

But with people making their preference loud and clear, the state may just be forced to pick up the grammar of what its voters want.


Times of India, October 13, 2008