It is approximately 6.30 in the evening in the village of Hivarkheda, and several children of different age groups are sitting in a circle in the school grounds. Some are busy reading, while others sit around the teacher as he helps them pronounce words accurately. After some time, a young girl stands up and reads aloud from her textbook, and the rest of the students clap. Some of them sing a poem learned in class, which leads to the whole group singing popular songs about the festival of Holi. These songs are in the Gormati dialect, their mother tongue. Some clap, while some dance to the rhythm. As the evening progresses, lights are switched on, and the students return to their studies.
This is the Night school, held every day in Hivarkheda village in the Matha tehsil of Jalna district in Maharashtra.
The night school, an initiative by the school Principal, Mr. Sunil More, was started in June 2017. Mr. More explains what the underlying reasons were. “I started work at this school in 2012. I have always tried my best to help improve the students’ performance, but a visit to schools in the “progressed” Gadhinglaj Beat, Kolhapur, changed my perspective. I was surprised by how smart and sharp those students were. I admired their self-confidence, even as I admitted to myself that despite my best efforts, my students were no match for them. I knew, then, that I had to put in a lot more effort so that my students could compete with the best. That was what inspired the night school.”
More adds, “The idea was already brewing in mind when I returned from Kolhapur. I shared it with the school management committee and a few parents which generated a positive response.
Over 90% of the families living here are from the Banjara community, and most of our students are the first, or at best the second generation to enter school. More than half the households have no electricity, and hence students have to use kerosene lamps or some such means, to be able to study and do their homework. Often, they get fed up trying to read in such inadequate light, which leads to them lagging behind in class. Our school day ends at 4 PM, so I have decided that the school’s study circle would meet between 6 and 9 every evening.”
Because the school used to function only during daylight hours, and nobody brought up the lack of ceiling fans, it was only after the study circle began that Sunil More realised, the school had no electricity! He invited members of the village community to a meeting. He recalls, “People agreed that if the children could not study at home due to the lack of electricity, then at least the school must have an uninterrupted power supply. Vitthal Rathod, village sarpanch who was also Chairperson of the school management committee, offered to extend the electrical connection from his own house up to the school. Not only did he contribute the Rs 7,000 rupees required for electrical fittings, he assured us that he would bear our electricity bills as well. And in this way, we crossed a major hurdle. Eventually we also sought further assistance from the community.”
The school raised Rs 57,000 through community participation. This sum was used to fit lights in the classrooms, verandahs and grounds. Fans, too, were installed in every classroom. The school also bought two LED TV monitors. More observes that there has been a marked improvement in the students’ performance since they began attending the study circle. He says, “Students enjoy studying in a group. Six months down the line, 1st std students who were learning to write the alphabet by tracing letters in the ground were able to write numbers from 1 to 100, and to add and subtract single digit numbers.”
As the students all sit together, the younger ones observe the older lot as they study. In this way, the former are introduced to what they will be studying the following year. Some students like to attempt solving sums or learning poems that the higher classes are doing. Most are more forthcoming about their difficulties out in the open than in the classroom. Although there are three other teachers in the school, the study circle is primarily run by Mr. More. A few educated youth from the village assist him in helping students with their difficulties.
More lives half an hour away from the school. He goes home after school is out at 4, but returns by 5.45. Of the village community’s response to the initiative, he says, “They are quite excited about this attempt to improve the students’ performance. They totally support it. So much so that no one in the village turns the TV on during this time, and no loudspeakers are used! The villagers also avoid coming too close to the grounds, or speaking loudly if they are nearby. They have understood the importance of education – that it is the only way forward for the generation after theirs.”
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team