Around 1995, after the concept of “holistic education” became government policy, schools in Maharashtra were grouped into clusters. Cluster heads were appointed to oversee the progress of programmes for improvement of the quality of education in the schools in their clusters. This was no easy task, as the persons in charge had to implement all district-level primary education programmes (DPEP) as well as those under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and Holistic Education programmes. They had to ensure that all schools had the necessary infrastructure, organise teacher training workshops, and encourage teachers to participate in curriculum creation. Then in 2009, the Right to Education (RTE) Act affirmed the right to free and compulsory education for all children between the 6-14 age group. In order to implement this Act successfully, centre heads had to ensure that all children were brought into the educational mainstream.
I was given charge of the Nimgul cluster of Taluka Shindkheda in Dhule District. There are eight ZP schools in the Nimgul cluster and schools in such rural areas are in desperate need of quality education. I started by checking if all these schools had the required infrastructure, and found that several had neither drinking water nor toilets, and some did not even have sufficient classroom space. I made a list and followed the matter up with the education department, ensuring that each school in the cluster could boast of having 100% of the infrastructure required.
We are in the process of implementing the RTE Act. The teachers have been on the alert, seeing to it that all children in the age group of 6-14 come to school. In 2015, the state government introduced the ‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’ (PSM) programme, which has given our work a new impetus. It aims to keep children in school by ensuring that students receive age-appropriate education and absorb the basic concepts of each subject. Mere attendance is not enough; no student must be left behind. We have since been working with this goal in mind.
It was through the PSM programme that we were introduced to the concept of constructivism in education. According to this understanding, each student constructs her own knowledge base, connecting new learning to older experiences. The teacher acts only as a guide or a mentor who helps in building the required scaffolding for the student. We were so impressed with this concept that we decided to visit Kumthe beat in Satara district where constructivism first took root in Maharashtra. A group of 20 teachers from my cluster went on a study visit of the Kumthe beat schools. We had long discussions with Pratibha Bharade, the extension officer of Kumthe beat and the pioneer of constructivism there, and returned to Dhule with our many questions answered, and a new goal.
We were determined to implement the constructivist approach in our way, without following the Kumthe beat pattern blindly. Today we are using the principles of constructivism to make learning joyful for students. Soon after returning from Satara, the schools from Salve and Nikumbh in our cluster were declared as models for the use of constructivist principles in education. I arranged visits to these schools for those teachers who could not visit Kumthe beat, and encouraged the creation of resource materials for use in the constructivist method of learning. Given the significant use of picture and word cards in the programme, I also donated a lamination machine.
Just as our schools and students were blossoming under the constructivist programme, we were introduced to the concept of the digital classroom. I was enamoured by the idea of interactive boards replacing blackboards, and tabs replacing text books. However, when I learned what it would cost to turn classrooms digital, I had to curb my enthusiasm. Even so, the digital classroom haunted my mind. This led me to visit the Salve school, which had been declared the first digital school in our taluka of Shindkheda. I gleaned information about digitalisation from Jeetendra and Namrata Patil, the young teacher couple at the Salve school, as well as from other teachers — Satish Shinde from Nikumbhe and Satish Joshi from Borkund. I gathered that the digital classroom juggernaut would require several helping hands to pull it forward, and that meant raising funds from the community.
However, could I expect financial help from within a poor rural area like Nimgul? I felt awkward even broaching the subject with local people, 95% of whom depend on farming and farm labour to earn their living. Yet the dream of a digital school, symbol of a new era in education refused to fade. I was possessed by the idea that the students from our area too should be able to work on computers. I was convinced that I had to pursue this dream — and, as they say, where there is a will, there is a way.
I found my way through the Prerana Sabhas. ‘Prerana’ means inspiration, and through these meetings, we sought to convince parents and other community members of the importance of computers in learning. We decided to hold such meetings in all the villages that had schools in our cluster. ‘Prerana Sabha’ implies presenting an idea in a way that inspires the community. This was not something a lone individual could achieve. I received generous help from the DIET Principal, Cluster Education Officers, the Taluka Communication Officer and Extension Officer, as well as from the principals and teachers of the various schools in our cluster. Some spoke with authority on why digital schools were the need of the hour, while others had the expertise to demonstrate the technology, and still others were able to inspire the gathering to donate. We held these meetings between 7 and 10 in the evenings, a time that was convenient for the villagers as well as the teachers.
The meetings truly inspired people to donate generously for digital schools. I was overwhelmed by the response. By 15 August 2015, all schools in our Nimgul cluster had become digital. This was the first school cluster in Dhule district to be declared 100% digital — an achievement that makes me immensely happy and proud.
I want to thank all those who so generously donated to the schools. Not only our centre, but the entire Taluka of Nimgul has turned digital! Our Education Officer, Manish Pawar, raised Rs 65,69,622 for ZP schools and Rs 1,27,000 for municipal schools in Dondai, through donations from teachers, officials and the general public. We are proud of the fact that Shindkheda has become the first taluka in Maharashtra to turn 100% digital.
Our students are making immense progress because of the joyful learning methods and digital school infrastructure. Parents have also responded very well to these initiatives. Recently, four students from private English medium schools have migrated to our ZP schools, obviously because of the quality of education we are able to deliver. Their parents said that they had seen that the students in ZP schools were showing a positive change, and making good progress. They were also impressed with the constructivist approach, digital classrooms, the children’s fair, and the winter games conducted in each centre.
My colleagues and I were happy to know we had proven the strength of ZP schools over the local English medium schools. I would like to applaud the principals, teachers and officers who guided us through
this entire process.
The blog for Nimgul centre: crcnimgul.blogspot.in
Blog: Bhalchandra Patil, Cluster head, Nimgul, Taluka Shindkheda, District Dhule
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team