Life as a student is bit off the beaten path for four-year-old Ovi Kale. Till she leaves her parents at the school gates, she speaks Marathi. But once in class, it’s Sanskrit — a language mostly associated with Hindu religious ceremonies, but rarely with preschool kids.
|A Sanskrit class in session at the Nyayamurti
Ranade Balak Mandir
Like Ovi, 700 other students at the Nyayamurti Ranade Balak Mandir, a kindergarten based in Shaniwar Peth, begin their day with Sanskrit — a compulsory module across playgroup, junior and senior KG classes.
Run by the Deccan Education Society (DES), the compulsory spoken Sanskrit module encompasses storytelling, recitation, poetry and prayers, and students are taught to greet each other in Sanskrit.
The reason for this, say school authorities, is not only to preserve Sanskrit but also to improve students’ speech and pronunciation skills at an early age. School principal Varsha Joshi, said, “The idea was conceived as a collective decision of the teaching staff and management in order to ensure that students learn more effectively and that their linguistic skills get honed in their formative years.
The syllabi have been designed keeping the developmental, intellectual and linguistic capacities of the students in mind.” Joshi added that the curriculum at the first level of playgroup entails mere introduction to some Sanskrit greetings as the students are in the age group of two to five years.
In the next level of junior class, the students are gradually made to deal with alphabets, words, numbers and days of the week and so on followed by the senior level, where children actually learn prayers, ‘stotras’ or hymns and are made to engage in fundamental dialogues, she said.
The school has been organising teachers’ training sessions every summer for the entire teaching staff of about 22 and reading material has been provided to the teachers for constant revision and references.
Shilpa Paradkar, class teacher, senior KG, said, “In order to teach spoken Sanskrit well, it was very important for me to master the curriculum, for which I attended the training session organised by the school. It is fulfilling to see students pick up the language really well.”
Ajit Harisinghani, speech therapist with Pashan-based The Speech Foundation, said, “Introducing Sanskrit at the kindergarten level is an intelligent step as in the nascent years, students absorb and assimilate the most in terms of languages.
Also, the intricate pronunciations and complexities of Sanskrit would help in introducing the students to a superior level of linguistic flexibility.”
Echoing Harisinghani’s sentiments, Joshi said, “According to the current state board curriculum, Sanskrit is an optional subject and is introduced in schools in Class VIII.
There is also an increasing inclination in choosing foreign languages over Sanskrit resulting in a decline in the number of takers studying the language. It is important to conserve Sanskrit and it is important that students know the basics of Sanskrit.”
Amol Kale, Ovi’s father, added, “Our daughter, unlike many other children of her age, has never stuttered or stammered or mispronounced words.
The clarity and flow of her speech has definitely been sharpened due to speaking Sanskrit in school.” Dr Kanchan Mande, head, Department of Sanskrit and Prakrit Languages, University of Pune, added, “It is certainly a welcome change.
If children are familiarised with Sanskrit at a tender age, it would not just enrich their Marathi and Hindi, but would also help them in attaining an edge in fluency and oratory skills.”
Professor M G Dhadphale, Sanskrit scholar and author and retired secretary of Deccan Education Society as also Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) added, “Introducing Sanskrit at kindergarten level is the most ideal way of imparting lessons in the language.
The younger the child, better is his capacity to absorb information and process it. Sanskrit not only erases speech problems but also creates a repository of literature by means of its ‘Subhasheet’ or proverbs, maxims and phrases.”
Mohan Harshe, father of five-yearold senior KG student Mridula, added, “As parents, we always wanted to teach Mridula Sanskrit shlokas and hymns. It is great that the same is now being undertaken by the school as part of the spoken Sanskrit curriculum.
Since the curriculum is well designed, systematic and structured, we don’t have to do any additional teaching and Mridula is learning much more than just the hymns.” Sanskrit is introduced to students in class eight as an optional subject according to the state board syllabus.
At present, only Fergusson and Sir Parshurambhau (SP) colleges offer Sanskrit as an optional subject. As per the admission statistics, about 25 students are pursuing graduation studies in Sanskrit.
However, the number of students enrolling for post-graduation and research studies in Sanskrit is sizeable. At present, UoP has 60 students who have opted for an MA in Sanskrit, and over 35 are pursuing research studies in the language.
► It is certainly a welcome change. If children are familiarised with Sanskrit at a tender age, it would not just enrich their Marathi and Hindi, but also help them in attaining an edge in fluency and oratory skills
- Dr Kanchan Mande, Head, Department of Sanskrit and Prakrit Languages, University of Pune
► The clarity and flow of her speech has been sharpened by speaking in Sanskrit in school
- Amol Kale, Ovi's Father