The Indian Express, June 29, 2003

The great English takeover is underway
Reshma Patil

Mumbai, June 28: SSHHH...a class is in progress.

But teacher Sabiha Ansari ignores the ruckus from a classroom where Std II and III students are squeezed into one tight, noisy space.

It's not the first day Sabiha (55) is alone on duty, somehow handling a deluge of 150 primary students trooping into this municipal English medium school's afternoon batch.

Unfolding under a single roof of the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar multi-lingual municipal school in a Worli bylane is the story of the rise of, and now the take-over by, a new medium of education across Mumbai, no longer chosen only by families who can pay for it.

''Mummy stays home to cook, baba drives a tempo. I can't speak Marathi properly. But if I don't learn to speak English, they will hit me,'' mumbles Pooja Shinde, Std II.

Here, children of the Telugu-speaking vegetable vendor, the Maharashtrian maid and the cabbie from Benares seek English education. The influx is so powerful, it is emptying Marathi, Telugu or Gujarati medium classrooms.

Minister for School Education, Amrish Patel, says the State is not liberal toward English schools. 'They receive no grants. Yet Marathi schools have stopped growing,' he says.

In Worli, principal E Saraswati and staff share stories of a decade ago when Telugu-medium was bursting with 900 students. Now, Std I has 20 students. ''I wonder if Telugu schools will survive even five years,'' she says.

The Telugu school has 212 students from Std I-VII and many teachers to spare. In the same building, the English school has 380 primary students often taught by just one teacher.

Behind gloomy walls, 165 Kannada medium students huddle quietly. The teacher shyly admits that her children study English-medium. ''I'm happy we received 33 new admissions,'' she beams. Nearby, the English school is still counting past 80.

Teacher Bharati Sawant remembers that this generous Worli campus once housed three Marathi medium sections for Std I-VII. Only one section remains, Std I-IV. ''We had five-six divisions per class with at least 60 students each. They shut down, there was no demand. Now we're happy if a class has 30 students.''

This is not a one-school phenomenon. At Dadar's Gokhale Road, at the English medium of the multilingual civic school, Satyabhan Pal has a spontaneous answer ' bhaiyya bhasha ' when asked the language he speaks at home. His father drives a taxi way past sunset.

Staff reveal, ''English medium is full.' Everyday, at least five parents queue up for an English education.
(This is a two-part series. Tomorrow: Marathi's demise)

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