Marathi Vidyalaya - NJ

Marathi Vidyalaya

Sudhir Ambekar February 2010

• Founded: January 1986

• Objective: To teach Marathi to children born in this country and who will live here. The objective is for them to learn Marathi so that they can communicate. The priorities are in the following order – Understand, speak, read and write.

• Number of students: About 20-24 in the last few years. Age range – 6 to 14

• Schedule: Every other Sunday from after Diwali to end of June when the schools in this area close. We usually avoid school holidays and long weekends. The class starts at 10 and ends at about 11.30. Snack follows.

• Venue: Every class is hosted by a different student’s family. The schedule is made at the beginning of the year. The snacks are provided by the host family. If a family lives in an apartment and cannot host a session, they offer to bring snacks.

• Fee: The school is free of charge. Large expenses e.g. for Diwali program and the picnic are shared by the participants.

• Yearly events: Diwali Program (Students perform in a short Marathi play), mid-term exam at half way point in the year, final exam, picnic at the end year in June (students are awarded a copy of their ‘Hasta Likhit’ and their diploma).

• Class program outline: All get together to say a Sanskrit prayer and a simpler prayer like a ‘AÉUiÉÏ’. Then there are usually two students scheduled to tell a story in Marathi. I repeat each sentence and students translate the sentences into English. I also use this time for any announcements since all the parents are present at that time. The classes are split after this. There are currently four classes. We have four volunteer teachers. At the end of the class (at about 11.30) the teachers write the homework in the students’ notebooks. The host family invariably has an elaborate snack for the children and the parents. When our two daughters were growing up we wanted them to learn Marathi. Since Pradnya and I speak Marathi in the house, the language was familiar to them and they even spoke Marathi until they started school. Later however, it was an uphill battle because of the influence of school, books, friends and television etc.. Some of our friends were in the same situation. As a result, with the encouragement of one of our friends we started this initiative. We found that the children were more willing to learn in a group setting with their friends. We only had 7or 8 students at that time. Neither Pradnya nor I are teachers by training. Also since I spent most of my school years in Calcutta, my knowledge of Marathi is limited. We never the less decided to give it a try. The current school format has evolved over the years. Pradnya became responsible for organizing and I decided to venture into teaching with the friend who had suggested starting the school. The Marathi alphabet ‘iÉ£üÉ’ was not very useful because it used words and pictures like ‘fÉaÉÉ, ¤Ȩ́ÉrÉ, EZÉVû’ to illustrate the letters. We also had to work on the pronunciation – something that was not needed when we learned Marathi. You may have noticed that Americans (and as a result our children here) do not pronounce the pure ‘Mü’ as we do. They say ‘ZÉ’. The same is true of mÉ and Oû. Our ‘oÉÉUÉZÉQûÏ’ does not have the symbols for writing ‘bat’ and ‘ball’ in Marathi. We also eliminated some uncommon letters and came up with our own alphabet sheet with pronunciations. The books that had simple stories used small (hard to read) print and often used ‘eÉÉåQûɤÉUå’. The books that had stories without ‘eÉÉåQûɤÉUå’ used incorrect words. To avoid that situation we started teaching some common ‘eÉÉåQûɤÉUå’’ with rÉ (crÉ,YrÉ,½..) and Wû (qWû,lWû..). Children could not relate to stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata because the events were difficult to understand and names were too complicated to write and remember. Also the students were too old for ‘MüÉMüÉ AÉsÉÉ, MüÉMÔü AÉsÉÏ; MüÉMüÉcÉÏ aÉÉQûÏ AÉsÉÏ…’ type of poems. As a result we resorted to CxÉÉmÉ lÉÏiÉÏ and Akbar Birbal stories. I re-wrote many of these stories with simple words and large font. After some years the ‘Sangam’ font became available and the work became a little easier. (The Sangam font is not supported in the newer Microsoft operating systems. I now use the ‘Baraha’ font although most of the school work is in the old Sangam font.). In addition to writing stories, I also made up cross-word puzzles based on the stories to improve vocabulary. As the years went by, our daughters stopped attending the school but new students were coming and the school continued. We split the group into two classes, then three and now we have four. Our minimum age requirement used to be 7 years for the students but now we have relaxed it a bit since their younger siblings of the students were eager to join the school. The focus in the youngest group is to increase vocabulary, say simple sentences and recognize letters. We teach them numbers, body parts, relatives colors, tastes, food items, animals, days of the week etc. and simple action (verb) words. In the Junior group which I teach the focus is on increasing vocabulary, understanding stories, answering simple questions based on stories, saying simple sentences about things around them, reading and writing simple words. Some students are able to read short stories. The Intermediate group focuses on reading more fluently, improving vocabulary and comprehension. Writing answers to simple questions. We do not emphasize grammar (urÉÉMüUhÉ) and spelling (zÉÑkS sÉåZÉlÉ) in writing but look for the intended message. The senior group focuses on reading, comprehension and answering open ended questions. In the past, some groups were given short stories/books to read at the beginning of the year and write a book report by the end of the year. The exams for the two younger groups are made in such a way that there is minimum amount of writing. They contain oral questions and reading simple words or recognizing pictures. The upper level exams require more comprehension and writing. The exams are made up by the teachers but are administered by other parents. The prayers at the beginning are intended to exercise pronunciation skills. The story telling is scheduled in advance. It gives students an opportunity to speak in front of a group and helps others understand and improve vocabulary. All the students write something for the Hastalikhit ‘Gappa Goshti’. The older students write the stories they tell in class or something equivalent. The younger ones write half a page often with the help of the parents. These writings are compiled and copied and handed out at the picnic as ‘Gappa Goshti’. The first Diwali program was only a Diwali Pharaal. Later we started with performances by some of the students and some entertainment for the adults. As the number of students increased, they all wanted to participate in the program. It was impossible to find something that met our needs. Since I knew all the children and their command of Marathi, I started writing short plays for the children. Some parents have also done this recently. The Diwali program now consists of Pharaal, Lakshmi Poojan, Children’s play, adult program and Dinner. Pradnya decides on the menu and assigns attendees to bring home cooked food accordingly. The play practices start after Labor Day and are held on Fridays and Sundays. The event takes place in a rented church. The play helps children improve vocabulary, pronunciation, memorization and gives them an opportunity to be on stage. The key to success in this endeavor is parent involvement. We found that simply asking the parents to help with the homework is not sufficient. The parents often do not take adequate interest or time to do it well. The play, storytelling, exams, ‘Gappa Goshti’ gets parents more intimately involved with their children and thus help with the learning process. For the first many years we hosted the Marathi Vidyalaya in our house. As the number of students increased (and we grew older) it became more cumbersome. As a result we explored other venues. The churches have their own Sunday Schools. The nearby schools did not want to open the school on Sundays because they would have to have a custodian and turn on the heat and since our school is free we could not afford to pay. We tried the conference room in our local library for one year. Although teaching part of it was fine, the parents had no place to socialize and there was no snack after the class. These latter two aspects are just as important. We finally settled on our current format which seems to be successful. Some of the side benefits are that children develop new friendships. The parents also do the same. Some of the mothers in our school have an occasional ‘Girls Night Out’. The children often leave the Marathi school when they enter High School. There has been some effort in the Marathi organizations to work with some Universities in India to formalize the Marathi curriculum and get recognition for the effort. It is a laudable effort, to encourage the students to continue with Marathi. However, to provide incentive, the benefits must be tangible. In New Jersey in certain High School districts students can satisfy foreign language requirements by passing Hindi or Gujarati exams. I know of at least one situation where a student did this. This allowed her to take additional courses in the high school instead of a foreign language. If Marathi can achieve this status, it would provide incentive for students to continue with Marathi in High School. Although we cannot take much credit for that, one of our students was able to satisfy the foreign language requirement in Northwestern University by passing a Marathi exam. Our format has evolved over the years and seems to be working well. I am sure that there are other ways of operating such a school also. If anyone is interested in starting a Marathi School they can benefit from our experience. I will be happy to share any of the material I have.

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