I met Kudapne ‘Sir’ in July 1991. He was due to retire in a year. He asked me, ‘Are you planning to teach in Bhor? You are sure to run away when they dump you in the dam.’ I decided not to take him seriously, and just nodded.
One day, Extension Officer Jagtap ’Sir’, called in all 27 of us teachers and, without revealing the names of the villages to us, made us sign the documents. After giving us the government orders, he asked us to join our assigned schools as soon as possible.
Coincidentally, I ran into Kudapne ‘Sir’ again, later that day. “And so? In which village will you be teaching?’ he asked. He was surprised when I said, ‘Kenjal’. I saw pity in his eyes. ‘Be careful,’ he warned. ‘The people here will be loving one moment, but won’t hesitate to dump you the next.’ I did not react to this. I just asked him for directions to Kenjal.
Like watching a film scene by scene, I can picture the journey of this school from being an unknown school in a remote village to becoming one of the pioneering schools in the state, well-known for “activity-based learning” – a self-sufficient school which boasts the now famous Vighnharta Energy Park.
The Kenjal school then had a staff of eight, with classes from Std 1 to 7. I was to teach Std 5. (Today, a student from that class, Avinash Jadhav, is the Sarpanch of the village.)
I am from Kolhapur. The language people spoke here was quite different. Slowly, I picked up their dialect and started bonding with the students. I was able to help foster a healthy and happy environment in the school, mainly because of the help, encouragement, and tips I received from the Principal and from my colleagues. I must admit that at that point I didn’t know much about pedagogy or child psychology.
The Pune District Council launched a programme called ‘Shikshan Chaitanya’ in 1992. I attended their two-day workshop, which set me thinking. At that time, schools across the state were quite influenced by the concept of ‘anandadayi shikshan’ – ‘learning made fun’.
I was learning a lot about how to teach Marathi and Mathematics in an interesting and fun way from Chitra Naik, Soman ‘Sir’ and Karandikar ‘Madam’ of the Indian Institute of Education, Pune – all of whom taught classes in these subjects once a month. I was also learning more about child psychology, and I started applying this knowledge while teaching.
Even today, the school conducts many programmes that teach and entertain at the same time. Our Kenjal school meet, with its variety entertainment programme, has been famous ever since 1992.
From1992 to 1996, when we were conducting adult education programmes, all the teachers used to stay back in school till 11 pm. I also tried to change the tone of the discourses given during the ‘Akhand Harinam’ week in the village. I invited orators like Prof Shivajirao Bhonsle, Prof Yajuvendra Mahajan, Prof Yashwant Patne to speak about the importance of education, and how it can change lives. Because of my many efforts, I developed a unique relationship with the villagers, and they began loving the school as well.
I was particularly keen that the students get practical experience and learn through doing. For example, we set up a telescope in the school campus with the help of astronomer Dr. Prakash Tupe and his team and spent a whole night identifying and observing stars and planets. This session was attended not only by our students but also by many other children as well as adults from nearby places.
Initially, during the school meet, I used to double up as a music conductor, but today the school has a music band of its own. In 2010, we appointed Suresh Khopde, a talented musician, to teach classical music. The villagers collected money for this. I am happy to report that 35 students are learning classical music through our school today.
Although our school was built was on the rocky and uneven ground, the area was large– a little over two acres. It was a very basic school, with three rooms built by the villagers, and an acacia tree. But soon I had started dreaming about developing this place. One reason was my growing attachment to the village and its lovable folk.
Although the school was running smoothly, I kept thinking of the two acres of land that were lying unused. During every Diwali and summer vacation, the students and I set to work with a will. We cut branches of the acacia tree to build a fence around the school. Also, before the arrival of each monsoon, we would plant fruit and flower saplings and look after them.
In time, the trees and vines started growing. From 1997 onwards, people started calling our school ‘the garden school’. It was the whole-hearted cooperation of the villagers and the students that made all this possible.
With help from the villagers, the school organised a huge Science Camp in 1997, to which 40 other schools from surrounding areas were invited. Dr. Jayant Naralikar came and spoke to the students. There were many stalls with scientific games, computers, books, fire-fighting practicals, and so on. The process of inculcating a scientific temper had begun. By the time the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan initiative came into being, the changes were becoming apparent.
In 2002, I attended a 45-day training for teaching children with special needs. Slowly, with the help of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, we expanded to more classrooms.
Grants from the government, along with amounts of money collected by the villagers, are being used to beautify the school and its campus.
The school has always been a front-runner in the Divisional Educational Quality Enhancement Programme. Our Kenjal school has grown famous for providing its students with practical experiences. We have many activities, such as cookery competitions, paragliding, archery, and field trips to business houses and professional places.
Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, the then CEO from Pune ZP had started ‘Activity-Based Learning’ as a pilot project in 30 schools in the Bhor sub-district. The Kenjal school was and still is recognised as the best ABL school.
We have designed 4500 activity-based sheets based on the National Curriculum Framework, 2005, using what we have learned in teacher training workshops held in Kanker, Chhattisgarh and Chennai. We use these sheets to teach in class.
We do not have classrooms in our school. Instead, we have laboratories. We have a Mathematics Lab, an English Lab, a Marathi Lab, and so on. Students learn through experiments in these labs.
We don’t have ‘class teachers’ either. Instead, we have ‘subject teachers’. Nor do we have a specific time for a particular class. We are free to take even two hours to make sure that every student has understood what is being taught. Our constant endeavor is to raise the level of education.
75% of the English flashcards we use for Std 1 and 2 students have colorful pictures. The cards also have words in English. By Std 3, 50 % of the flashcards have pictures and 50 % have only words. By the time the student reaches Std 5, the flash cards have only words.
Besides flash cards, we use origami, wooden blocks, beads, and a variety of educational toys. While teaching a subject, we talk about related topics as well. For instance, while teaching Maths using wooden ice cream spoons, we also encourage students to make houses, trees, boats from these, and to discuss these things.
We read a Marathi and an English newspaper in school every day. In this way, students grow aware of happenings in their surroundings, and in the world. And we have quizzes, recitations, debate competitions.
If there is a natural or manmade calamity anywhere in the country, our students and their families are among the first to lend a helping hand. They raised money after the Latur and Gujarat earthquakes and, more recently, contributed about Rs 10,000 towards flood relief in Kerala.
We use digital technology in our school. All classes have Android smart LED TVs and a computer. Ours may well be the only school to have wifi through the entire complex. We use solar energy and are equipped with a sound system, lights – the works. All this has been made possible by the villagers. If the government gives a rupee, our village community is sure to add its own contributions.
Our backbone is the School Management Committee. The SMC, in collaboration with our ex-students and former District Council member Chandrakant Bathe, has made the school one of the most well-known in Pune district.
Among the facilities provided to the school courtesy the SMC are an amphitheatre; 16 computers; five Android LED TV sets; wifi throughout the campus; a large playground; a well-equipped 1700 sq. ft study room; solar energy throughout the school; filtered potable water that is always available.
Perhaps the most unusual and interesting feature of the school is the Vighnaharta Energy Park. This dream project of Swapnil Bathe occupies 14 gunthas, or little under a third of an acre.
Swapnil has an MS from London in the field of renewable energy. To help students understand alternative sources of energy, he has constructed many objects that run on solar or human-made energy, which they can use. The park, which cost around Rs 80,00,000 to build, boasts a bike, a car, a flour mill, a solar cooker, a juicer, a see-saw, swings, and many more things that run on solar and human-made energy.
With natural sources of energy like mineral oil and coal fast depleting, and an ever-increasing population, we need to explore alternative sources of energy. And so, through our Energy Park, we are introducing young generations to other sources of energy and how they can be produced and used.
We have all kinds of people, who are interested in education and in the work we are doing, visiting us from within the state as well as from other states.
After the success of the ‘Activity-Based Learning’ programme in Maharashtra, the state of Goa is also planning to implement it. Whatever we have achieved is due to the efforts of aware parents and guardians, an empowered School Management Committee, people-oriented leadership, and a caring set of teachers. Interactions with teachers like Bhausaheb Chaskar, Geeta Mahashabde, Kishor Darak, and Sujata Patil continue to inspire us.
It has been our endeavour to enable students to gain in knowledge, and to use their learning in practical ways.
Writer: Jaygonda Kalgonda Patil, Associate Teacher, Kenjal ZP School, Bhor division, Pune district
Translation and Editing: samata.shiksha team