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English Teacher From Rural Maharashtra Shares How She Won the Fulbright Fellowship

Madhura Rajvanshi, an English teacher from Phaltan, uses art, storytelling and music to make learning English fun for her students. She has received the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program for International Teachers.

English Teacher From Rural Maharashtra Shares How She Won the Fulbright Fellowship

Madhura Rajvanshi grew up in Phaltan, a small town in Maharashtra. After completing her BSc in Botany in Pune, she returned to her hometown to find her calling in life. Like many, what she studied didn’t particularly interest her. Back home, she joined the school she studied in, Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan, as she loved working with children. 

In 2008, an opportunity presented itself which would forever change the trajectory of the 38-year-old’s life. After the English teacher quit, Dr Maxine Berntsen, founder of the school, asked Madhura if she would like to teach. The latter agreed, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

As she enjoyed the work, she also equipped herself with a formal degree in elementary education from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. For the past 15 years, she has been working on making English education accessible and fun for students in the Marathi medium school. 

Now, Madhura has been chosen for the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship for the year 2023-24, and received the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program for International Teachers (Fulbright DAI) from the United States government. She is the only teacher from rural India to be chosen for the scholarship this year.

“I want to build a programme for teachers in rural Marathi-medium schools in Maharashtra on how to make English classrooms interesting. I also wish to learn on how to organise learning spaces for students in their classrooms,” she says.

Focusing on self-expression

Madhura encourages children to express themselves freely
Madhura encourages children to express themselves freely.

When Madhura started teaching at Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan, a Marathi medium private school, she realised that the textbooks and materials available were not interesting to students. She found the textbooks to be complex and started working on ways to make it lively and interesting.

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to English, even for teachers who aren’t very proficient in it, she says, is fear of the language. 

“One of the things we do at our school is to accept the child’s mother tongue. We encourage them to write in whatever language they feel comfortable in as expression is important. Once they are comfortable with expressing themselves, learning English too, is no longer a problem. I work on making children face their fears,” Madhura tells The Better India.

Using art, storytelling and music in the classroom, she makes learning English fun. She sings and raps with the students, thereby removing fear from the equation, and she encourages them to write. 

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Madhura says that students get a lot of space for self-expression in a stress-free atmosphere.

“We make sure that the students are having a ball. Education should not be a burden or task for children. We have students from all walks of life and we work together to impart lessons in humanity,” adds the educator.

The school is part of the Pragat Shikshan Sanstha (educational institution), where Madhura is a trustee. The enterprise, in addition to running the school, conducts outreach programmes at anganwadis and Government zilla parishad schools, focusing on early childhood education.

While working with other teachers from rural Maharashtra, Madhura found that English teachers were finding it difficult to teach and weren’t comfortable with the textbooks given by the government. Looking for ways to help these teachers, she heard of the Fulbright scholarship. 

Madhura taking a class at Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan
Madhura taking a class at Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan.

Every year, 60 to 70 educators from 17 countries, including India are selected for the Fulbright DAI, as per the Fulbright India website. Madhura will get an opportunity to study at an American university from August to December 2024, where she can co-teach, audit some courses there and observe the teaching methods.

She wishes to increase the quality of teaching at schools like hers so that they can be on par with English medium schools. 

Programmes like the Fulbright scholarship, she says, help widen your horizons and contribute in a meaningful way to your schools.

If you wish to know more about the scholarship, check here

Edited by Padmashree Pande

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