Mumbai: For 25 years Shalini Ranade taught English to class A students of Parle Tilak Vidyalaya. It was one of the first three schools in Maharashtra to introduce the practice of segregating students on the basis of how they performed.
The move turned Shalini against apartheid in classrooms, a practice that has now been abolished by the state government. "It’s very unfair. From an early age children are made to feel they are in the C or D divisions, implying they are not good."It’s wrong to introduce such thoughts in children at such an early age when they can’t understand,” said Shalini.
Sustained campaign —The state government directive came after a sustained campaign by parents and teachers who argued that segregation had created a virtual caste system in many schools.The system of academic segregation was introduced in the state in the early 60s. It started with Mumbai and was then gradually adopted by schools across the state. It’s currently in practice in over 120 schools in Maharashtra. Nearly 80 of them are in Mumbai and Thane alone, most of them being run by the government. The decision to segregate was left to the school, which could introduce it at any level, primary or secondary. In some schools students are placed in different divisions from as early as Class 1. The top scorers are accorded special treatment.
School’s appeal — Part of its appeal for many schools lies in the fact that the system produces better results, which in turn increases the school’s appeal. "My teachers come up to me and ask why we don’t do the same," said Rekha Shahani, Principal, Kamala High School. But for children who may not be high achievers, the apartheid was a nightmare. It led a group of parents and activists to approach the human rights commission. They took affidavits along with them, and backed by the cry of the victimized children, the battle was won.