Mind your language is the message going out from large sections of central and north Calcutta to the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. And it’s loud enough to prompt a push for changing the medium of instruction to Hindi, in a number of Bengali-medium schools of the area.
More than a dozen institutions — most of them over 50 years old and located in Burrabazar, Bowbazar, College Street, Moulali and Taltala — have seen the roll-call count drop drastically over the past few years, hinting at an obvious shift in the demographic profile of the surroundings.
Corresponding to the dwindling number of students is a sharp rise in the number of requests from guardians of non-Bengali students, seeking a switch to Hindi medium. Taking note of the trend, Board officials have prepared a list of schools facing this classroom crisis and directed the district inspector of secondary schools (Calcutta) to conduct a thorough inspection. “We have been asked to conduct an inquiry to ascertain the number of Bengali-medium schools in central Calcutta that are finding it difficult to retain students,” said Calcutta district inspector of schools Alok Sarkar, clarifying that the Board had not specified an alternate language of instruction.
Officials said a recent study conducted by the state school education department revealed an “abnormal fall in the enrolment of students” in a large number of Bengali-medium schools in Burrabazar, Moulali, Sealdah, Taltala and College Street areas. So, if at Carey High School, the enrolment strength had dwindled from 1,200 to less than 250 in five years, the numbers had dropped from around 800 to nearly 200 at Bangabasi and Surendranath Collegiate schools.
The language barrier proved practically insurmountable at Vidyapith Metropolitan Institution, Taltala High School, Rani Rashmoni School and Beleghata Vidyabithi, Girindra Balika Vidyalaya, Bowbazar High School, Adarsha Vidya Mandir and Calcutta Academy,
“Enrolment figures have fallen sharply in the past two years. At the same time, there is a great demand for seats among Hindi-speaking students. We have informed the Board about the problem… Our school can survive if we are allowed to switch over to Hindi,” said Asim Kumar Banerjee, headmaster, Carey High School, near Moulali.
According to Board officials, schools that fail to draw a reasonable number of students for a long time are closed down permanently. “But complete closure of the schools of central Calcutta is not the solution, as there is a high demand for seats among non-Bengali students,” admitted one of them.
Some schools said the “abnormal fall” of enrolment could be traced back a couple of years. “A switchover to Hindi is necessary because most of the students come from Hindi-speaking communities. They have trouble coping, as the medium of instruction is Bengali. Our enrolment is bound to shoot up once we change to Hindi,” said Kalpana Banerjee, headmistress of Mathuranath Girls School, which has less than 250 students now.