Lahanshahada is a small village in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra. Almost 60% of the population here belongs to the Bhil tribal community, most of which migrates to the neighbouring state of Gujarat for a large part of the year, for reasons of livelihood. Entire families move, of course – and, as a result, the children miss school and often drop out altogether. But the situation began to improve rapidly after Sunanda Bhavsaar ‘Madam’ joined the ZP School in 2013. Soon, the village was able to boast of not having a single out-of-school child!
Bhavsaar ‘Madam’ quickly became aware of the seriousness of the out-of-school children issue. She saw how students who were in school for the first term would disappear in the second. And she would often see children in the village who never came to school. The problem was so acute that it was impossible to know how many students were registered in school and how many actually lived in the village. Finally, after talking to her colleagues, Bhavsaar ‘Madam’ decided to conduct a survey. Five teachers from the school visited village households at times when they expected most people to be at home, and managed to arrive at the exact number of out-of-school students.
Bhavsaar ‘Madam’ claims they brought 46 students back to school, between 2013 and 2014. Several of these students had completed their primary education, while there were others who had never been to school. In the former case, the teachers helped to get the students enrolled in nearby secondary schools; and those who had never been to school were enrolled in the std appropriate to their ages.
In order to accomplish this, a greater awareness about the Right to Education Act was created through the School Managing Committee and parent-teacher meetings. The teachers also visited village homes and impressed upon parents and guardians the need to send their children to school. Those families that migrated every year were requested to leave the children behind with relatives so that the students might continue their schooling without interruption. All these efforts bore fruit, and in June 2014 the village was declared “a village free of out-of-school children”.
The next problem that Bhavsaar ‘Madam’ faced was that of language. As most students belonged to the Bhil community, they first had to be taught the Marathi language in order to teach them the curriculum. Bhavsaar ‘Madam’ introduced methods such as the use of picture cards with both Bhil and Marathi words. In time, the students’ vocabulary had increased to the extent where, for instance, they no longer said “chidi” (the Bhil word) on seeing the picture of a sparrow, but said “chimni” (the Marathi word) instead.
Bhavsaar ‘Madam’ gradually expanded on this approach and introduced an hour dedicated to Marathi learning, during which students played language games like: guessing a word from a given letter and writing it down; sentence completion; constructing stories based on three given words. As ‘Madam’ says, “Earlier our students could not speak Marathi till the time they reached 3rd or even 4th std. But now, even our 1st std students can speak fluent Marathi.” All these activities have helped the students master age-appropriate reading and writing skills. In 2016, the ZP Primary School of Lahanshahada was declared as first “progressed” school in the Shimbe centre of Nandurbar district.
As an example of the improved quality of teaching in this school, Bhavsaar ‘Madam’ narrates an amusing story concerning a student named Dhanraj Narbavar. His parents had enrolled him in the 2nd std of an English medium school. But Dhanraj was not happy there and started lagging behind in his studies. So his parents enrolled him in the ZP school, where his progress was so amazing that even after he completed the 4th std, which was the highest that the primary school offered, the parents insisted that he continue in the same school! Finally the teachers had to persuade them to send him to the secondary school nearby.
In 2017, the school decided to start school as early as March-April for the 1st std students. The DIECPD (District Institute for Educational and Continuous Professional Development) helped them to prepare the new students for formal education. This included familiarising them with the school and its surroundings, and getting them to play games: identifying and group similar objects together, like separating rice and lentils or grouping together similarly coloured blocks; arranging pictures chronologically; simple jigsaw puzzles. These games were designed to increase eye-hand coordination and dexterity, and improve concentration.
Students of Lahanshahada recently participated in the radio programme ‘Mi Mukhyamantri Boltoy’ (‘This is the Chief Minister speaking’) with the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Punam Bhiloti, Hemlata Koli and Ritesh Pawar were the invited students who got a chance to ask him questions. The theme for the talk was ‘School Cleanliness’ and the students put forward their demand for a bathroom on the school premises, with an adequate water supply so they could bathe. It remains to be seen whether this request, made against the background of perpetual water scarcity in this tribal region, is fulfilled.
Bhavsaar ‘Madam’ says proudly of the students who went on the radio show, “These students, who had never even stepped out of Nandurbar, travelled all the way to Mumbai and Mantralaya (the Secretariat). Their parents were reluctant to send them so far away, but we convinced them. After the recording, we took the students to the Gateway of India as well as to Chowpatty (the well-known beach).”
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Photos: Sunanda Bhavsar
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team