Mumbai Local

This bee is more than just spellings

A spelling bee competition in progress—Photo: Special Arrangement  

City boy Omkar Barve, a student of the Parle Tilak Vidyalaya, was a socially awkward child until he performed beyond expectations at the MaRRS International Spelling Bee Competition held in the city on April 24. While he was ranked 10 at the competition, just being on the highest stage in the activity-based nature of the spell-bee competition gave the standard VIII student the much needed confidence to draw him out. “It made me aware of my capabilities and widened my knowledge of the language. I feel more confident and happy now,” he says.

His mother, Swati, is thrilled with the edge her son now enjoys, turning more outward socially while achieving excellence within his own mind. “Though one cannot perceive any drastic change in children once they enrol in spell-bees, with time, I have noticed how Omkar has become more interactive, trying to apply his vocabulary in his day-to-day speech,” she adds.

The competitions are not just about spellings. It encourages systematic understanding of English. The nature of the contest at MaRRS and a host of spelling bee competitions that have spawned across India have now got the undivided attention of city students and their parents. MaRRS, which launched its first competition in India in 2003, has now over two lakh participants from 2,500 schools across 300 cities.

Wiz National Spell Bee, another intensely competitive event, has also seen a gradual increase from 2,200 contestants to 2,00,000 contestants in just eight years. “The spell-bee competitions work on the mental level, improving the confidence of the students,” says Suresh Kumar, director, MaRRS Intellectual Services, who says the services hope to increase their national count of shortlisted contestants to 2,000 for 2017 as opposed to just 150 in 2003.

While most don’t make the national cut in the competitive world of spellings, the mere rush to participate have got many in the city hooked. “I have been participating in spelling competitions since Class IV and over time, I have seen an increase in the number of my competitors. Now, a lot of students are showing interest, but climbing up the ladder is still a struggle,” says Udit Jain, a state-level speller and a Class X student of CP Goenka School, Juhu.

Sannati Chetan, a student of Class III of Brigade School, Malleswaram, is a national-level speller. Priya Chetan, her mother, says, “Her vocabulary has increased and her stage fright has vanished. This has no adverse effect on studies or her hobbies. She has been a topper and is a classical dancer. She has become a role model for her sister, Stuti. My younger daughter, who is in Kindergarten, has also taken a knack in spelling and is taking part in pre-school spell-bees.”

There are various factors at play that have made spell-bees popular. “The key difference between extra-curricular contests and spell-bees is that anyone can participate in the latter. Even handicapped and visually impaired children can participate. Spelling is something everyone learns and every student is capable of participating. This might not be the case with art, music or sports,” says PD Sebastian of Wiz National

Dinesh Kumar Boswam, state head of MaRRS, Karnataka points to the ripple effect caused by winners as a reason for the gradual rise in participation. “A winner influences his/her peers to participate in the next term. Along with new participants, there are many instances of consistent participation where contestants come back time and again to compete.”

Vidya Virkar, managing partner, Strand Book Stall, says, “It is interesting to note that the despite the overall fall in the number of books sold, the sale of books for children is on the rise. We’ve had frantic parents calling and asking for suggestions on books for their wards. Whether spell-bees are the underlying reason for the splurge is unknown, but there has been a recent trend of parents and students trying to improve their spoken and written word.”

The spell-bees don’t lay stress on spelling alone; spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary are equally significant. Some are even resorting to advocating pronunciation and idiom dictionaries to their students. Pronunciation dictionaries are usually used by undergraduate students for phonetic courses. Mrunal Datar, director, Edu Planet, said, “Phonetics should be taught along with the alphabet to ensure that correct pronunciation can be administered when a child starts learning English.”

Nalini Samuel, vice-principal, The Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai says, “There has been a marked increase in participation in every competition, not just spell-bees. Over the last five years, many spell-bee agencies have entered the market. Although we encourage our children to participate in contests, we have a very busy schedule and are not interested to look into so many spell-bee competitions.”

Despite the overall fall in books sold, sale of children’s books is on the riseVidya VirkarManaging partner, Strand Book Stall

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 9:06:41 PM |

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