Tamil medium students in Maharashtra left in the lurch

AS reported By Rahi Gaikwad in The Hindu, Jun 25, 2008,

Three Mumbai municipal schools asked to close class 8
Orders issued last year were a mistake, says an officer
“Decision will lead to failures, dropouts and child labour”

MUMBAI: Anxious parents of children in Tamil medium municipal schools here gathered unwillingly on Tuesday to collect the school- leaving certificates of their wards. Their schooling has come to an abrupt end, owing to the sudden decision of the administration to shut down class 8, started last year in three schools.

The schools, where class 8 was started last year on the orders issued by the Education Committee, were asked this year to discontinue the same, leaving around 800 students of class seven and 8 in the lurch and dimming the prospects of around 15,000 children seeking education in 48 Tamil medium schools in the city.

In Maharashtra, Tamil schools have been imparting education only till class seven until last year’s directive.

Education Officer Arun Thakre says that the orders issued last year were "a mistake" on the part of the administration.

He said that the Education Committee was unaware that the State board did not have the infrastructure such as teaching staff and textbooks to teach further levels.

"Someone should tell the Education Committee," he states.
Despite protests by parents of K.C. Matunga Mumbai Upper Primary Tamil School last week and several appeals therewith to offer education till class 10, the administration is not willing to relent.

"People are just after spoiling the future of the students," Mr. Thakre said.
The Secondary School Certificate (SSC) Board does not conduct exams after class seven for the Tamil medium as it does not have the facility to do so.

"Then how can one approve class 8 to 10," he asks.
“Switch to English”

As a makeshift measure, the administration has directed the three schools to continue class 8, but to convert the medium to English, a variation to their earlier solution of asking the students to move to English medium schools.

Students, however, prefer to continue their studies in Tamil itself. "I have learnt Tamil here, how can I suddenly go and learn English," says Manikanthan, a class 9 student.

Mr. Thakre says that students will be given added coaching in the English language. He dismisses fears of resultant dropouts and failures, saying, "otherwise also students fail."

According to him, the shift to English will not be that damaging, especially when Tamil is offered as the first language.
Authorities at L.K. Wagji, an English medium school, inform that teachers usually help children understand the English subjects through Tamil.
But how many will actually sail through is anybody’s guess. Says Sameera Meeran of the United Tamil Organisation, Mumbai, "Such experiments in the past have generated many failures. These are children of daily wage earners. They neither have the environment to acquire English, nor the money to pay for private tuition."

He claims that owing to the shift to a new language, only 30 per cent go in for further studies and appear privately for matriculation exams of the Tamil Nadu board.

The rest either drop out or join menial jobs, or even turn anti-social. The closure of the secondary levels, he alleges, is the municipal corporation’s way of "encouraging child labour."

M. Karun, president of Indian Penpals’ League, a social welfare organisation, says, "Class 10 is the basic qualification municipal schools have to provide. At that level one is mature and can manage with English at the college level, but not after class seven."

Both these organisations also highlight the fact that students of other mediums, including Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, can appear for board exams, whereas it is only the Tamil medium which is sidelined.
"Last year, the government asked 20 schools (all mediums included) to starts class 8, but now it has only asked the three Tamil schools to backtrack.”

It is also astonishing that the schools do not have a written order to go ahead with the closure. K.C. Matunga, for instance, reports that it has only been told "orally" about the revised order.


Further discrepancies have complicated the issue. A Right to Information (RTI) petition filed by the United Tamil Organisation reveals that the Education Committee has sought the government’s approval for class 8. However, Mr. Thakre says that no such proposal has been made.

The RTI mentions about proposals for recruiting teachers and recognition of Tamil at the State board level and printing of textbooks.
However, the administration is evasive about the contents of the RTI.
Mr. Meeran says, "People are just blaming each other."

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