The ZP school in the village of Karnaval in Mantha tehsil of Jalna district is doing good work. Almost 80% of the villagers here work as sugarcane farm labourers. During the harvest season, whole families migrate to other districts, with the children often dropping out of school altogether. But now, the efforts of the teachers at Karnaval ZP School have ensured a 100% drop in the migration of students.
And that is not all – 18 students from the village who were enrolled at a nearby English-medium private school have returned to the government-run Karnaval ZP School as a result of the improved quality of education here.
Dhananjay Aralkar, a teacher here, says, “When I joined this school in 2014, the situation was bad. Most students would bunk school, many would go off with their parents. Though we, the teachers, were convinced that the students needed to attend school regularly, it was an uphill task convincing the parents. We started going door to door, talking to family members about the importance of educating their children. We spoke of how their children would have a brighter future if they were educated. But we could not speak the Gormati dialect that most people of the Banjara community here speak. We would talk in Marathi, and they would respond in Gormati! We often had to ask the students themselves to explain to their families what we were trying to say. But in one way or another, we did all we could to get our message across.”
In time, the villagers took notice of the teachers’ perseverance in providing a good education to their students. Guardians began to realize that taking their children out of school from time to time meant depriving them of something important, and became more willing to leave them behind. In 2015-16, the District Council made arrangements to provide breakfast and dinner for children from migrant workers’ families. The teachers helped organize other necessities – clothes, medical help, and so on. Aralkar ‘Sir’ says that in 2016, the school successfully kept over 37 students from migrating with their families. These students would spend the night at relatives’ homes, while the school cared for them and took care of their needs during the day. The five or six students who did not have any local relatives were, at the request of their teachers, welcomed into the homes of other villagers.
Of course, it was not easy to convince every parent and guardian. Aralkar ‘Sir’ recalls two girls who stayed back with their grandmother: “The girls would take the goats to graze, pick cotton, and do other odd jobs. We noticed that one of these sisters often looked longingly towards the school when she brought her goats to the river just behind. We’d ask her to come to school, and she would reply, “I would love to come, but my grandmother won’t allow it.” We visited the grandmother several times, requesting her to send the girls to school. But she would not budge.
“Their parents have gone to Mumbai to earn a living,” argued the grandmother. “We are poor. If the girls pick cotton, they earn fifty rupees. Who will look after the goats and cattle at home? I am old and can no longer do it. It’s their responsibility now. What do we need an education for?” We explained to her how her granddaughters could do well in life, get jobs, and have a better future if they were educated. We also told her that the girls wished to come to school. But nothing would change her mind.
Finally, the former village chief, Bhagwanrao Rathod, intervened. He arranged for a cowherd to be paid to look after the goats, and made the grandmother promise that she would now send the girls to school. Both girls were now studying at the Karnaval ZP School, said Aralkar ‘Sir’.
Clearly, the Karnaval School and its teachers have earned the villagers’ trust. A large part of the reason for this turnaround is the improved quality of teaching and the school’s efficient administration. Earlier, the students found it difficult to converse and study in Marathi, but their teachers helped them acquire fluency in the language: they taught them simple rhymes and stories; got them to write a few lines in Marathi every day. In order to help increase the students’ vocabularies, the teachers asked them to collect 10 new words every day, in Marathi as well as in English. Word games and word pyramids are used extensively in the school so that the students may learn more and more words.
The samata.shiksha team visited the school in July 2017, just a month into the new academic year. And already the 1st standard students were able to spell names like Snehal, Smita, Maharashtra, and words like “karyakram”, in Marathi.
The teachers wanted to improve the school infrastructure, but it was not easy to raise funds from the community. Three teachers made personal contributions adding up to Rs 1,40,000, which was used to repair and paint the school building, and to create a garden in the front yard. On seeing these teachers, who did not even belong to the village, spending their own money for the sake of the village school, several villagers also began to contribute money.
The school has since received donations worth Rs 3,25,000 from the local community. These funds have been used to buy LED TV screens for each classroom, educational materials and resources, desks and benches and even good quality uniforms. A point to note is that the students here do not sit in rows and lines but form a circle and sit facing each other in the classroom.
The students seem to love their school, with its excellent infrastructure as well as quality teaching methods. Aralkar ‘Sir’ gives the example of Pradeep Chavan, whose parents as well as grandparents live and work in Mumbai. When Pradeep went to visit them during school vacations, they enrolled him in a Mumbai school so that they could all be together. Aralkar ‘Sir’ says, “We were disappointed as we had lost a good student. But Pradeep did not like the school in Mumbai. He missed this school, and his friends and teachers so much, that he rebelled and insisted on coming back here. Finally, his parents gave in, and Pradeep returned. He now lives with his mother’s parents in the village so that he can study in this school.”
In February 2017, the first ‘Balrakshak’ conference in Maharashtra state was held at this school. All 156 Balrakshak (child protector/mentor) teachers from Mantha tehsil participated in the conference. It was in tribute to the Karnaval ZP School achieving 100% school enrolment that the conference was held here. (The ‘Balrakshak’ programme is run by the Equity Cell of the state’s education department. The programme aims to form a group of balrakshak teachers in every tehsil. The Balrakshak programme aims to get every child into school and to enable teachers to impart quality education.)
Blog & photos: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team