Marathi-medium schooling: Yay or Nay?

Since school begins in a week, it is already too late to be worrying about this but I specialize in worrying about things when the opportune worry-window has long passed, so here it is:

Rumi will be going to Gram Mangal. The pre-school is very simple and minimalistic and completely congruent with our parenting philosophies of unstructured free play, a flexible learning pace and cultural rootedness. Most importantly, it is right next door to us.

I am convinced of the merits of the school. What scares me a little about our decision is whether the fact that she will be in a pre-school that uses Marathi as its medium of instruction will adversely impact her communication and fluency in English. I am (slightly) ashamedly always super-impressed with cracking English. Also (a little more ashamedly), I immediately associate one of my favorite compliments ‘articulate’ with English. So I would love for Rumi to be articulate, but would I be OK with her choosing Marathi as her first language for beautiful articulation and self-expression?  I’m not sure, but I’m not sure why I’m unsure, and I really am feeling bad and a bit of a classist about this. Does this mean that if I had to pick a language hierarchy for Rumi to be proficient in, English would be at the top of that list? (Don’t really want to answer that, especially on a public forum as this!) Oh My God, deep inside, am I one of those people who judge others based on superficial things such as language??

The husband thankfully runs so much deeper than me on so many levels and he is able to swat my buzzing doubts away as casually as dealing with mosquitoes with that zingy electrical racquet.

“I’m worried about whether we are starting Rumi off at a disadvantage. My school really made my English what it is today. She is already living in a Marathi-speaking environment. Where will she learn to speak and use English?”

“She will learn from us and with us. Would you rather have a school where the medium of instruction is English but her creativity is stifled under the garb of ‘discipline’? Where the syllabus and style of teaching and structure has not undergone any change in the last twenty years? Where she will get into the cycle of memorizing dates and giving exams one after the other for the next decade of her life?”

No, no and no. That is not what I want at all. I really do believe that our education system needs to undergo a massive overhaul and I am very happy to have found good alternative options in Pune.

“And will I meet like-minded parents? That I can actually talk to on the phone and hang out with?” (Since we are being superficial, let us go all the way in. My intense need for making friends and chatting people up manifests itself here). And in my defense, I have been at the receiving end of inverted snobbery, not in the school but in my society: cold looks because I asked something in English instead of Marathi.

“Is that more important than Rumi’s development and well-being?” asks the husband without the slightest trace of disbelief and impatience: he has taken the marriage vows of ‘for better and for worse’ to heart.

“Obviously not” I laugh, trying to cover up for the fact that I gave my social needs a thought while picking out a school for my child.

“Do you think you can express your thoughts beautifully and with equal ease in more than one language or do you have a clear preference for one language?” I realize I have never asked my multilingual husband this before. I know that my inner voice is clearly and unequivocally English and I assume that the one-language domination is true of most people.

Not for my husband though who can write and speak beautifully in both English and German, both languages that he learned and practiced fairly late in his life, both of which came much later than his native Marathi.

And there it is. There is an answer for every single worry that I voice and the bottom line is this: the onus of raising Rumi lies with us. If I want her to speak good English, there is a lot that I can do. We need not look at school as way of training our child into becoming all that we want to be (our parents did that: they outsourced the job to be done to the school). In our case, we are looking at the school to supplement and support our style of parenting, making Gram Mangal a good fit for pre-school, before we can send her to DLRC that takes kids from 7 years up. And what is the worst case scenario? That she has to be pulled out and change schools?

Filled with renewed assurance that we are making a decision that feels right for us, I turn my attention to the more important things to worry about: whether the pink Peppa Pig schoolbag will be delivered on time and how to nurse my broken heart when this little pumpkin takes off for four long hours every day.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. sumati says:

    I am proud of you Alisha and Abhiraj for selecting a Marathi medium pre-school. Trust me, this wont be a hindrance in her articulation in English. I have a bunch of Marathi medium friends who are extremely articulate in English.


    1. Rumi's mommy says:

      Thank you Sumati!


  2. J says:

    Weighing in from the language acquisition research perspective: a Marathi-medium school may be the same as or better than an English-medium school with a mostly homogeneous Marathi student and teacher body. That’s because the quality of language instruction matters too, and it’s unlikely to be very high in a Puneri English-medium school anyway. Based on anecdata, does the average student from Abhinava or Karnataka navigate English with more ease than someone from Aksharnandan? Not really, because they’re never really required to speak English conversationally either. All they may do differently is read more books in English, which I’m sure the home environment is capable of taking care of. One *potential* advantage of English-medium schools is gaining familiarity with domain-specific English terms, but I haven’t seen any convincing research on it. Were it proved to be advantageous, it still wouldn’t be a strong enough factor to sway the balance.

    Real convent schools are slightly different because teachers tend to be sourced from a variety of backgrounds, and tend to actually foster an English-speaking environment. It also helps if the students are from more diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, because it encourages real communication in English. In this scenario, the school environment can provide qualitatively and quantitatively sufficient English-language input, assuming that the home environment provides the same for Marathi.

    To summarize, from an acquisition perspective, convent > Marathi medium > regular English medium to maximize bilingual benefits (IMHO).

    However, this really doesn’t take into account individual parenting and cultural preferences. I think there’s a strong case for a Marathi medium school that’s a good culture fit, because it can give a child a sense of rootedness that can often be very difficult to find in third-culture environments (like a convent school). Run-of-the-mill English-medium schools often seem to do no better than Marathi-medium ones at improving language skills, but do instil a deplorable “better-than-vernacular” attitude.

    Overall, Marathi-medium education can be an excellent choice, especially when it can be supplemented with non-Marathi linguistic and cultural input in the home environment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rumi's mommy says:

      Thank you so much for weighing in so sensibly and succinctly!! Beautifully put!


  3. Avani Wele says:

    I went to Akshar Nandan. I’m sure you know about the school. In spite of it being an excellent school, a lot of parents I know have second thoughts about enrolling their child, only because of the medium of instruction.

    I will be honest with you- my childhood bestie went to St Mary’s. (I think the same school as yours, not sure though). I did face some issues.. And even had a little bit of complex when it came to communicating fluently in English. But that’s where my parents played a major role. They both themselves have learned in Marathi medium schools. But they’re voracious readers and have taken conscious efforts to improve their ‘second’ language. So much, that its no more secondary. They guided me through this phase and made me fall in love with English as much as I am passionate about Marathi.
    Also, Akshar Nandan (unlike other Marathi medium schools) takes great efforts to make kids comfortable with English.

    All I am trying to say is, even after being educated in a Marathi medium school I’m doing a lot better than ‘just fine’.
    More importantly I do not think in Marathi and then translate it to English( as is the perceived problem by many parents). When I have to communicate in English, I naturally THINK in English! And in my opinion, even though I might not be as articulate as my English medium peers, I’m eloquent enough.

    Had it not been for my mother I would have never known the world of Enid Blyton or Harry Potter.
    But had it not been for my school, I would have long succumbed to the competition around us and would not have given a chance to my curious-creative side at all.

    You have touched upon all these points in your blog and I was very happy to read it.Still felt like sharing my first hand experience.

    Good command on one language always empowers you to learn others with ease. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rumi's mommy says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experienes Avani! Im feeling reassured that we are on the right track 😊


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