Shriramtanda, a small village inhabited by people of the nomadic Banjara tribe, occupies a place of honour on the educational map of Maharashtra. In 2016, Jagdish Kude, Principal of the ZP school in the village, was presented the ‘Ideal Teacher’ award by the state govt. Soon after, in 2017, the entire tehsil of Mantha in Jalna district achieved the “no out-of-school child” status. The journey was to this point was not a smooth one, however, and the credit for this success goes to the efforts made by Kude ‘Sir’.
Shriramtanda is located at the crossroads near the Vatur fork in Mantha tehsil. The village was settled by Shriram Nanu Chavan, a leader of this community. The community lived in great poverty, and alcoholism was rampant. Up until 1993, the village did not have a separate school building. Classes were held in the local temple. Then a school building was constructed, but absenteeism was a problem – because the students did not speak Marathi, the language of instruction in school, and so the teachers were unable to make any headway.
In 2008, Kude ‘Sir’ asked to be transferred to this school. Explaining why he chose this school, which still does not have a proper access road and the village, which did not have electricity then, and was notorious as a haven for addicts, Kude ‘Sir’ says, “Every child has a right to quality education. I was determined to make a change, and therefore asked for this transfer.”
After Kude ‘Sir’ arrived here, he began teaching in earnest. But he soon found that migration was a major factor preventing students from attending school regularly. It would often lead to their dropping out of school completely and permanently. Kude ‘Sir’ realised that parents and guardians needed to be convinced of the importance of education, if this problem were to be overcome.
As a first step, Kude ‘Sir’ learned to speak the Banjara dialect so as to establish a dialogue with the villagers. They were surprised that a teacher was interested in conversing with them. Even as he befriended the village community, he called for a meeting with parents and guardians at which, speaking in their language, he explained the importance of education. Before the meeting, he went door-to-door, personally visiting each household to ensure that a maximum number of people attended the meeting.
He recalls, “I told them that lack of education was one of the main reasons for their poverty, it was why they now had to travel from place to place to find employment. If they did not wish their children to be forced to follow in their footsteps, education was only way for them to get out of this cycle. I explained that I did not want their money, but only wished them to send their children to school.”
Kude ‘Sir’ continued to organise such meetings, and slowly some families began sending their children to school regularly. But many were apprehensive about leaving their children behind while they went off to work. So Kude ‘Sir’ came up with a brilliant solution. He was aware that often the only people at home during the day were the old people; the younger men and women would all go to work. So he decided to offer the midday meal cooked for the students in school to all grandparents and elders, who were left alone at home, as well. He asked the cooks to make an extra kilo of khichadi for them.
This trick turned the tide! He won over the elders in the village, who were now convinced of his good intentions: they thought that this man, who always spoke with them so cordially and also went out of his way to feed the village elders, would surely look after the children well.
Kude ‘Sir’ says, “The elders have a special status and are respected in these communities. The leader’s opinion is also important. So I was successful in creating a good impression about myself. Also, at the meetings with guardians, I was now able to challenge those who thought I would not be able to look after their children, considering I was looking after their parents as well.” In time, the villagers changed their attitude towards schooling, and the village attained the status of “no out-of-school child”.
Once students started attending school regularly, Kude ‘Sir’ turned his attention to improve the quality of education that they received. He divided them into groups, and encouraged them to make learning a group effort. He would have the groups compete with one another, motivating them to excel. Based on the constructivist approach to learning, he made liberal use of charts, floor maps and other educational aids. Today, the students in this school have all acquired the age-appropriate mathematical skills.
Kude ‘Sir’ did not stop at simply teaching the given curriculum. He also focused on the students’ overall development. Often, the girls from the village were married off before they were 18. He started addressing this issue in his meetings with parents and guardians. At first, it proved difficult to establish a dialogue with the women who, following tradition, did not even talk to men outside their family circles. But Kude ‘Sir’ kept referring to the hardships and health problems that underage girls faced due to early marriages. He appealed to the mothers by asking them to protect their daughters from the same hardships that they had themselves faced as child brides.
Kude ‘Sir’ concentrated his energies on educating the girls in the community. He was convinced that once the girls were educated, they themselves would resist early marriage. So even though the school at Shriramtanda had classes only up to Std 4, he would try and ensure that the girls continued their education at least till the Std 12, by enrolling in schools outside the village. He also started a new tradition – that of felicitating the girls who managed to study till Std 7, 10 and 12. “I am proud that today all girls from this village study at least up to the Std 12,” he says.
Through women’s meetings, Kude ‘Sir’ also sought to tackle the problem of alcoholism within the community. He explained the ill effects of long-term use of tobacco, guthka and alcohol to the women and children. This led to many women taking it upon themselves to make their husbands give up these habits.
All these initiatives made Kude ‘Sir’ an intrinsic part of the community – so much so that today, whether it is a wedding or a funeral, his presence is indispensable.
Another initiative by ‘Sir’ and his team was that of planting trees. The school at Shriramtanda stands on a terrain of hard rock commonly found in Maharashtra. This entire area, that was treated as a garbage dump by the villagers, stands transformed into a lush green patch today. No garbage is thrown here any longer, and the trees offer welcome shade to the school’s students. Kude ‘Sir’, along with the villagers, literally had to break open the rock and pour in soil for the trees to take root. He mooted the idea of “one child one plant”, and taught the students how to nurture their trees. Today, Shriramtanda is full of greenery and huge trees. Often, the students have their classes under these trees.
Thanks to the relentless efforts of Kude ‘Sir’, the students, who till a few years ago did not speak even Marathi, can confidently converse in English. Their uniforms and school bags are exactly like those of students of private schools in the urban areas. Over the past decade, Kude ‘Sir’ has personally spent almost Rs 1,50,000 to improve the school infrastructure, while the villagers, too, have contributed roughly Rs 28,000.
The school has only two teachers, and the villagers resist Kude ‘Sir’ being transferred elsewhere. When, in 2013, it seemed like he would be sent to another school, they submitted a petition opposing the move to the Panchayat Samiti (Village Council) and had the transfer order reversed.
This school, which at one time did not even have too many local students, now sees a long line of aspirants from not just Shriramtanda but also from the nearby Partur and Ghansavangi tehsils. This school, which was once rather inaccessible even for teachers, now has a special rickshaw that ferries the students!
Today the ZP school in Shriramtanda has become a role model for other schools in the state. The District Collectors and CEOs appointed to Jalna district make it a point to visit this school. But Kude ‘Sir’ is not satisfied with these achievements. He has conducted over 158 workshops for school principals so that all schools in Mantha tehsil achieve “progress” and “excellence”.
Recalling a promise made to Nand Kumar, Principal Secretary for School Education, Maharashtra, Kude ‘Sir’ says, “My dream is to achieve ‘progress’ for the entire Mantha tehsil. It is only when parents stop lining up outside this school, because all schools in the Mantha tehsil have achieved ‘progress’, will I feel that I have succeeded.”
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team