English Education for Change

Posted By: Neeta Kolhatkar|Dated: April 23, 2013

Radha Utnoor, a 37-year old cook and domestic helper goes to five different homes in Girgaum. A single mother of two, the lady is uneducated and was forced to marry when she was 16. She has often said she feels angry that her parents didn’t let her finish schooling and arranged her marriage very early to a man whom she didn’t know. Radha says her mother’s defence is that they were too poor to take on the burden of three growing girls.

English Education for Change

After marriage, Radha moved into an 8-foot room, at a row house in the prime area of Mumbai city, opposite Charni Road station. This line of row houses is just outside Hinduja College, a daily inspiration for Radha to send her children there. Like most migrant labourers, Radha took to the easiest job that she knew—to cook, wash vessels and clean a house—as a domestic worker.

As soon as she got two children, she had resolved to send her children to English medium schools but her family wasn’t in favour. Radha’s estranged husband was, in fact, dead against educating the children. Her husband felt that educating his children was a waste and wanted them to begin work. Radha bravely fought to enrol them in English schools.

Like Radha, there are scores of domestic helpers, cooks and menial paid workers who believe that English education is the tool for progress and betterment. According to Maharashtra government statistics, there are 30 lakh domestic workers the state. There are more than 11,300 domestic workers registered with some union or organisation.  Ghar Kamgar Molkarni Sanghatana leader, Babli, corroborates the fact that domestic workers prefer to enrol their children in English medium schools rather than in Marathi or Hindi schools.

Babli says that over 60 percent of children of domestic workers have been enrolled in English medium schools. Though not many first generation learners pursue higher studies, these families still have a strong belief that English will help their children get better jobs than washing vessels. Babli, on the other hand, believes that this is just the marketing of neo-capitalism.  But apart from aspirations, which all have, the fact that companies prefer English-speaking workers is clearly reflected in the better job profile, higher salary category and better career mobility of these candidates.

Even though parents are unable to teach English at home or even understand it, parents like Radha have stood by their belief. Just because they were deprived of a good education, are their children bound to the same fate? Convent schools play a large role in ensuring this is not the case, promoting a mission of equality and fairness in society.  The fact that many children of domestic workers are enrolled in convent schools seems to be helping.

It is still not easy for domestic workers. Since their children are first generation learners, not all of them live in conducive learning environments. Many women face abuse and often, this violence is endured by children as well. The unions and schools, especially convents, are working to address this issue through constant interaction with parents and by giving special attention to the children.

Domestic workers incur more expenses as they need to hire tuition teachers, but in Mumbai especially, domestic workers are helped by their employers, according to labour unions. Working in good homes obviously helps the workers to aspire for a better life for their children, inculcating the belief that speaking English opens many doors.

One would tend to believe that eventually there will be a time when there won’t be workers doing menial jobs. However, Anjali Kanitkar, Associate Professor at College of Social Work says that will take many more years. There will always be a turnover of domestic workers, as many migrate to cities for a better living. According to the unions in this sector, every month they get enrolments in double digits. There are still immense disparities in India and a formal education, as it is, doesn’t seem yet to be an adequate equalizer.


About the Author:
Neeta Kolhatkar

Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 20 years experience reporting on various sectors and issues. She gives a candid report on the realities that exist in our society.

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  • anil agrawal

    Undoubtedly, English education plays vital role in everyone life irrespective of any class or community. In this era of globalisation, it opens vast opportunities & access to interact with a larger section in all parts of the world, thus become an added advantage especially for career ambitious generation. A few people like Radha dare to dream something unusual in our society, thus able to bargain prosperity for their new generation. I do’nt conclude here that there is nothing beyond the English education as far as growth is concerned, but definitely it works as a catalyst to change the environment. Salute to Radha and her obsession.

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