Shaniche Rakshasbhuvan is a tiny village at one end of the Gevrai tehsil in Beed district. The ZP school here is situated inside a pleasing structure. The trees surrounding the schoolyard; teachers who are motivated to impart quality education and make every student computer-savvy; excellent community participation; and the attention paid to children with disabilities: all these factors make this a special school.
The Rakshasbhuvan ZP School has classes up to the 4th std, and seven teachers. When I visited, the teachers and students were busy playing a game to match the correct letters of the alphabet to different objects. The game involves students bringing their own toys to school. The teachers had made a small cardboard name card for each toy. To play, the toys are all mixed up, as are the name cards, and the students have to pick up a toy and pick out its matching card. The students had clearly become adept at the game. I watched the 1st std students picking up toys and accurately matching the name cards. In this way, they learn the alphabet.
I was impressed – it was only July, so the students had been in school barely a month. They were also able to identify numbers up to 100. The class teacher, Nikalje ‘Sir’, explained, “After our visit to the Kumthe Beat schools in 2015, we returned with the firm belief that every child can learn. So we, too, make substantial use of constructivist principles, and of educational aids based on these principles, in our teaching here.”
He recalled, “In August 2015, the Extension Officer Pravin Kalam-Patil led a team of 12 teachers from Beed on a visit to Kumthe Beat in Satara district. We were impressed by the progress made by those students and by their confidence. But as we were there for just a couple of days, we were unable to learn very much about the efforts by the teachers there that had brought about this change. And so, four of us returned to Kumthe Beat a little later and spent some time at the Manewadi School. The teachers there explained the concept of constructivism to us, and spoke in detail about how its principles could be used to enable learning, even among children with learning disabilities.“
“As I listened to them, I thought back to two of my students, Misbah and Rohan, who had learning disabilities. Eager to try this new method of teaching, on returning to Rakshasbhuvan I requested that I be put in charge of the 1st std, so that I could then put constructivist principles into practice from the outset.”
Nikalje ‘Sir’ continued, “I decided to concentrate on Misbah and Rohan with the aim of engaging them in class lessons. Misbah has a motor disorder, whereas Rohan is hearing-impaired. Neither of them could sit still in the classroom. Rohan would cry constantly. So from the very beginning, I allowed Rohan to step out of class whenever he wanted to, and to help them both with the problem of attention I gave them permission to take any constructivist teaching aid or game whenever they wished.”
The first change that occurred was that both students now started staying in school for the entire school day. At the same time, Nikalje ‘Sir’ told their classmates to include them in class activities instead of poking fun at them.
Nikalje ‘Sir’ introduced me to both Misbah and Rohan. Both are now in the 3rd std, as is age-appropriate. Misbah is able to trace letters in the sand, and she can even write words on the floor or on the blackboard. Rohan, too, has made progress. He can now identify numbers. Soon after my visit, I heard from Nikalje ‘Sir’ that Rohan had gone on to study in a special school for the hearing-impaired.
The school has received substantial funds through community participation. The villagers, teachers and the Extension Officers have all contributed to this fund. Extension Officer Kalam-Patil donated Rs 1,00,000, and his brother, Pradeep Kalam-Patil, donated Rs 1,50,000 for the construction of a compound wall. The teachers, too, contributed Rs 10,000 each. Many villagers came together to contribute in kind – they provided the school with two LED TV screens, four computers, and some furniture. They also donated paint – and, under the supervision of Bade ‘Sir’ and Savarkar ‘Sir’ of Galuj Centre, the teachers of Rakshasbhuvan painted the school structure themselves.
Nikalje ‘Sir’ recollects how, after deciding they must get ISO certification for the school, all the teachers worked day and night to improve the physical features of the school so as to comply with ISO standards – which ensured that the school received the coveted certification within two weeks.
Another special achievement of the teachers here is a dictionary they have created, using words from the Laman, Vadar, Pardhi and Kahar dialects. Many children from these communities attend the Rakshasbhuvan and other ZP schools in the area. New teachers often have difficulty understanding the students, who in turn are unfamiliar with Marathi. The dictionary, which has over 3,500 words, was put together to help deal with this language barrier. Besides the teachers at Rakshasbhuvan, teachers from other schools in Valuj Centre have also contributed to the dictionary.
I could not help but admire the efforts of Rakshasbhuvan ZP School to reach out to the most marginalized sections.
Blog & photos: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar, For Comet Media Foundation
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team.