In this school, students use the abacus to learn Mathematics, and understand spatial relationships through the Chinese game of Tangram.
Five years ago, the school turned digital. It has its own vermiculture compost unit, a special toilet for disabled students, and a kitchen in which the students’ midday meal is cooked.
This is the Sumthana ZP School in the Renapur tehsil of Latur district, which I visited in July 2017.
The 64 students here have three teachers, and an enthusiastic Principal. The school has adopted the constructivist approach to teaching. In some other schools in Maharashtra, I had seen teachers play a game of dumb charades where students guessed words and solved simple mathematical problems with the help of a series of actions they had been taught. But in this school, I was amazed to see students guess not just words, but recite entire sentences written in their notebooks or from their textbooks, with a blindfold on their eyes! If one gives a textbook open at any page and if a blindfolded student is then asked to guess where a certain word or a sentence is located on that page, she can easily do it!
Loharey ‘Sir’ explains, “The human brain has immense capacity to absorb and retain information. It is said that in the first five years of our life, the brain develops at its fastest pace. Children are not in school then, but even the period between 6 to 14 years is very important with respect to the development of our mental faculties. I am extremely curious about the development of the brain. I watch videos and read books related to this subject. I often visit the Manahshanti Kendra (a centre for meditation) in Lonavla. All this prompted me to conduct some experiments that I hoped would test and strengthen the capacity of the brain. I have found that acute concentration on a particular thing makes our sensory organs more sensitive to smell, sound and touch. With practice, the students are able to sense what is written even with blindfolds on their eyes.”
He continues, “In their growing years, children are very active. So they appreciate the constructivist methods of learning which allow them scope to participate actively in the learning process, instead of learning by rote. I encourage my students to play with the Chinese puzzle ‘Tangram’. Like Origami, which uses the paper-folding method to make different shapes, this game uses pieces of paper, or cardboard or plastic, to create new geometric shapes. We also have a ‘brainy cube’ game that includes magnetic beads from which the students make different objects. The students can play these games for hours together. These games help stimulate their imagination and brain development.” While I was there, I did see the students enjoying themselves making and wearing bracelets and necklaces out of the magnetic beads.
The students of Sumthana School use the abacus to practice their Maths skills. Unlike in the cities, there are no abacus classes here, but Loharey ‘Sir’ does his best to ensure that his students too are exposed to a range of methods and remain on a par with their urban counterparts.
The government is making efforts to include disabled children in regular schools, under the ‘Inclusive Education’ programme. Loharey ‘Sir’ has learned Braille to be able to teach the blind students of his school. Some of his regular students have learned Braille as well!
The Sumthana ZP School became a digital school in 2013. Before that, whenever needed, Loharey ‘Sir’ would use his own laptop. In 2016, the MP from Renapur (Rural) Traimbak Bhise got a computer and a projector worth Rs 1,00,000 for this school. The school has also received a 40-inch LED TV through the ‘Smart School’ project of the Latur District Council. Enthused by the efforts of the teachers and their various projects for the students, the village community also donated a sum of Rs 44,000 to the school.
To help the students become socially aware and responsible, on every Independence Day and Republic Day the school organises elocution competitions on relevant issues, at the village council. In 2012, the topic was “the ill effects of alcohol”. Students spoke passionately on the adverse effects of alcohol on health and on the well-being of the family. So effective were these speeches that just days later all the women in the village marched to the office of the Deputy Superintendent of Police and, with its help, had three country liquor manufacturing units in the neighborhood shut down! Even the Deputy SP was surprised to see the women take charge in this manner. The women said it was the speeches by the students that had motivated them.
The teachers at the school promote hygienic habits. They teach students to wash their hands with soap before and after meals and after using the toilet, and to cut their nails regularly. They make them aware of how diseases are spread due to open defecation. This led the students to demand toilets in their homes. In 2015-16, Loharey ‘Sir’ got the students to write and post letters to their parents and families requesting toilets in their homes. As a result, 90% of the households in the village now have toilets. The Sumthana village council has implemented a policy of providing water connections only to those households that have toilets. Soon the village will reach the target of having a toilet in every household.
Like other ZP schools all over Maharashtra, the walls and the floor of Sumthana school too are decorated with colourful pictures, letters of the English alphabet, numerals, and mathematical operations. Loharey ‘Sir’ had specific ideas on how the school should be decorated. He was so happy with the results, and with the dedication of the painter who would travel a great distance every day to reach the school, that at the end of the project, Loharey ‘Sir’ gave away his two-wheeler to him.
Loharey ‘Sir’ is often invited to move to an urban school, but he is actively involved in the overall development of the students in this small school, and so is content to remain here.
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team