The ‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’ programme, along with the use of Constructivist principles in teaching, is bringing about a positive change in schools across Maharashtra. The teachers are keen to ensure that each student is able to read, write and do simple mathematical operations, appropriate to their age. Let us see what kind of shifts occur for a school to be declared “progressed”, and also how teachers’ attitudes change. On its tour of Nashik district, the samata.shiksha team visited the primary school in Kurudgaon.
As soon as we entered the school we noticed that this school was different from the others we had visited so far. The students sat along three sides of the classroom, leaving a wide empty space in the centre, which was occupied by colourful floor charts for language games and for a game of mathematical snakes and ladders. Students could choose any one of these charts, and get busy with a learning activity without waiting for the teacher.
Its Principal, Ambadas Mhaske says, “Although my school has now been declared ‘progressed’, the situation was very different just three years ago. Like most teachers then, I too was convinced that some students in the class were bright, some were of average intelligence, and the rest simply incapable of learning. But in 2015, some teachers from Nashik visited the Kumthe Beat, and that changed our entire outlook towards teaching.”
Mhaske ‘Sir’ elaborates, “The entire Kumthe Beat was declared ‘progressed’ and was said to be following the constructivist principles of teaching. Under the guidance of the then Extension Officer Neha Shirole ‘Madam’, some 89 teachers from our district, including me, visited the Kumthe Beat in 2015. I remember it was July and it had been raining. Our group was assigned to visit a certain school. It looked as shabby as any other from the outside, and I wondered what the fuss was all about. I even expected the trip to be a waste of time, as I thought that my school was in much better shape.”
“But as soon as we entered, all such thoughts flew out of my mind as we witnessed the confidence, the level of articulation and the learning ability of those children. They could subtract and multiply numbers with impressive ease. A Std 3 student bowled me over when he constructed as many as 28 sentences using the word “rain”. Even Std 1 students were able to read, though it was only July and barely a month since the term began. All this made me realise that something was lacking in my way of teaching!”
“On my return, the first thing I changed was that I stopped labelling the students. I stopped justifying their lack of progress by giving excuses like the lack of a conducive atmosphere at home, or the students’ own lack of interest. I had realised that as a teacher it was my responsibility to impart the best quality education I could, and to help the students progress. So I decided to make some fundamental changes at school. I began talking to the students, encouraging them and boosting their confidence by telling them that they could do well. We started developing low-cost educational aids – coloured beads, wooden spoons, picture-word cards, and so on. We painted charts on the floors using oil paints. Most importantly, we rearranged the way teachers and students occupied space in the classroom. I stopped standing in front of them, and instead we formed groups and I would sit down with them in these groups.”
New Std 1 students are given coloured blocks, clay or colourful rangoli powder. They are asked to separate grains of rice from other grains to increase finger dexterity, concentration, and the ability to identify differences. Gradually, they are introduced to the alphabet, which they practice by tracing letters on each other’s backs or using the rangoli spread on the floor. While learning Maths, after they learn to identify the numerals 1 to 9, they are taught place values with the help of beads. The school also uses charts to help simplify mathematical concepts.
There are many novel games designed for older students. An arc is drawn on the floor below the door, extending from the door frame up to the wall behind the door. The arc is marked with the degrees of angles. By closing or opening the door, students learn to identify the degree of the angle the door forms on the floor beneath. Even Std 3 students learn to identify angles as they play this game. Similarly, students learn addition and subtraction while playing snakes and ladders drawn on the floor. They write five-digit numbers with ease, speak English fluently, converse with and interview visitors with confidence.
A boy called Prem Waghmare was enrolled in this school. His progress was noted by Nand Kumar, Chief Secretary, School Education, Maharashtra. Prem, wholeheartedly disliked school and studying. He had not made any progress even by Std 3. But Mhaske ‘Sir’ decided to pay special attention to him. Using the constructivist approach, he first started chatting with him to gain his trust. Then he would praise his every achievement so as to encourage him. He helped Prem grow in by asking simple questions that the boy could easily answer. Gradually Prem started liking Maths and also language lessons. The boy who used to hang back in the shadows was now eager to strike up conversations with visiting strangers. He also made academic progress. When Nand Kumar paid a visit to Kurudgaon, he made a special mention of Prem, who is now a Std 5 student at a nearby school.
The Kurudgaon Primary School, like many others in the region, has only two teachers. But Mhaske ‘Sir’ believes that far more important than the number of teachers, or the amount of financial aid a school receives, is the commitment of teachers to providing the best possible education to their students. Many teachers from other parts of the district visit this school. To spread awareness about constructivism, Mhaske ‘Sir’, and Bairagi ‘Madam’, a teacher at the nearby Kothure Phata ZP School, conduct workshops for teachers. So far, they have held around 20 such workshops in Nashik, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, and other districts of Maharashtra.
Students drop in at the school even on Sundays and other holidays. “The educational aids should be used freely by the children and not kept in the cupboard as show pieces,” says Mhaske ‘Sir’. His motto is: “Teachers should try different experiments with their students and, in the process, continue learning new things themselves.”
Blog and photos: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team