I was born in the drought-prone district of Beed in Marathwada. We lived in Loni Sayyadmeer village, in Ashti tehsil. Our family’s poverty meant I had to start working as early as possible. It was while studying to obtain a D.Ed that I realised I would have the opportunity to shape and hone a future generation, and thus to make a difference. What more could I ask for?
I was first appointed to a remote school, in Chinchala village of Paithan tehsil in Aurangabad district. The school was small, dilapidated and gloomy. Student attendance was irregular. When I arrived there in February 2005, I determined to do my best to change these conditions.
I decided to start with the look of the school. In conversation after conversation with the villagers, I emphasised that their children must attend school regularly, and that the school ought to be a matter of local pride. Convinced that this young teacher was trying to change things for the better, the villagers joined with me to do a complete makeover of the school structure. We painted the building, and hung up pictures of freedom fighters and colourful educational charts. We also managed to cultivate a beautiful front garden.
Often, I found myself in school till as late as 8 or 9 in the evening. But I did not care about the long hours as long as the work was getting done. Once the makeover was complete, the students began to feel a greater affinity for the school. I was aware, however, that this outward change would not be sufficient; also called for was a dramatic change in the quality of teaching.
This second task was more challenging. Our school had only two teachers for the 1st to 4th standards. We decided to tackle this issue by making the students independent of the teachers. Enter, an initiative called ‘Adopt a friend’, which paired a bright student with one who was lagging behind in class. The bright student was to help her classmate, and the pair was to approach the teacher only when unable to solve a problem on its own.
Another initiative was ‘ringan swadhyay’ (study circle), where we would group the children and ask the brightest ones to help the others. The circle could solve difficult mathematical problems together, or find the meanings of difficult English words. To ensure that students helped others and that those being helped made an effort to succeed, we held informal competitions among these groups.
Such initiatives helped the students learn to study on their own. They also helped develop a spirit of co-operation, and a sense of responsibility and of team work. I would often give students some practical project that involved seeking information on their own, and coming up with solutions. For example, as part of a project on water conservation, they had to prepare charts depicting the use of water per household and, in the process, they on their own identified daily activities where water could be saved, like bathing. They also tabulated the amount of water that could be saved if certain ideas were put into practice. Such projects also helped increase the students’ sense of social responsibility.
We made students aware of scholarships they could work towards obtaining. Then there were new activities like the Navoday Vidyalay study group, and English Day, besides exercises such as constructing tables based on dates of the month and quizzes like Kaun Banega Crorepati? (Who Will Be a Millionaire?). The villagers, noticing the progress being made by the students, donated three computers to the school. We started training students to use these computers. Now they were eager to come to school even on a holiday!
This was when I decided to do away with the school bell and not enforce the school timing of 9.30 to 4.30. Surprisingly enough, as early as 8.30 or even 8 AM, several students would be in school already. We handed over the keys of the classrooms to the group leaders when we found that often, rather than wait for the teachers or staff to arrive, students occupied themselves with their classwork, or tending to the garden, or playing games. They would linger in school even after hours, to read books or work on the computers. Those students who did not have any academic support at home would stay back in school to study.
By this time I had established warm relations with the villagers. I participated actively in Tantamukt Gaon, a campaign to ensure peace and harmony, as well as other drives to bring about social change, like Gaam Swachhata Abhiyaan (Clean Village Movement), Ek Gaon Ek Ganpati (One Village, One Ganpati Idol), and Ek Kutumb Paach Zade (One Family, Five Trees).
Our school in Chinchala village won the first prize in Aurangabad district under the programme for overall academic development. The then Minister of Rural Development, Vijaysingh Mohite-Patil, and the former Revenue Minister Suresh Dhas, visited the school and appreciated our efforts.
Between July 2011 to 2014, I was posted in the ZP school at Jamgaon in Ashti taluka of Beed. With the help of some enthusiastic teachers there, we converted this school into the first digital school in Beed district. Since July 2014, I have been teaching at the ZP school at Pargaon Jogeshwari in Ashti taluka. The Principal and teachers here are all very encouraging, and so I have continued with my different experiments and projects.
With the start of the ‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’ programme, we were introduced to and were soon fascinated by the principles of constructivism that could be used while teaching. We, too, adopted some of these ideas, such as allowing students to decide their own pace of learning, and making the learning experience as joyful and free of anxiety as possible. Corporal punishment is not allowed, and neither do we scold the children. Students are free to study any subject at any time during school hours. We have introduced several small, practical projects to make learning more experiential. Students learn with the help of poems, dances and skits.
With the active participation of the villagers, the school has got a water pipeline, a bore well, an inverter for power, and a playground laid with red earth, as well as a projector, and a library with digital resources. Our school boasts the first audio-video studio among ZP schools in Maharashtra. We have turned an entire wall of the studio into a chroma screen. I have spent my own money to buy a video camera, which I use to record students’ projects. We edit songs, dances, poetry, reading, skits and other performances by students, and play these back for them.
We pay special attention to nature conservation around the school. We have a kitchen garden in which we have planted onions, garlic, spinach, coriander, radish, carrot, peas, cucumber, gavaar and ladies’ finger. The students maintain the garden, and we use the produce in their mid-day meals. We have also planted trees in the school compound, where students keep water in bowls for the birds. They have learned how to collect the bio-degradable waste within the compound to make vermi-compost. All the students in our school are enrolled in the ‘Harit Sena’ (Green Army) of the Maharashtra Government.
After working for more than 12 years in the field of education, I have begun to give talks to teachers and parents on ‘Mool Samjoon Ghetana’ (Understanding Children). I also have my own blog (shikshakkatta.blogspot.in) where I present projects and experiments related to education. I am part of the group of tech-savvy teachers of the Maharashtra Government and have conducted some 30 workshops on ‘The use of technology to bring about positive change among students’.
My next goal is to develop the first music studio in a ZP school in Maharashtra, and I’m glad to say that work on this is moving forwards well. Our students are learning to play modern musical instruments so that they can set to tune all the poems they learn from the 1st to 8th standards. I firmly believe that one can succeed if one works hard and does not give up on one’s dreams. I have seen that students from rural areas are immensely accomplished, and I try to nurture their talents so that they may make their mark, even in international arenas. I am certain that the ZP schools will successfully take up that challenge.
Blog & photos: Somnath Walke, Graduate Teacher, ZP school, Pargaon Jogeshwari, Taluka Ashta, Beed
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team