In 2006, a young man from Latur who dreamed of becoming a good teacher was posted to a village school as Assistant Teacher. Armed with his appointment letter and filled with anticipation, he journeyed to Roha taluka in Raigad district. Coming as he did from the arid Marathwada region, his eye was soothed by the greenery that seemed to be everywhere. After an uphill walk of almost two kilometers, following the signboards, he finally reached his destination – and his first workplace – the ZP school in Palekhurd village.
The name of this man – Gajanan Jadhav. Jadhav ‘Sir’ was enchanted by the tiny school, and the neat rows of mud huts around it. The majority of people living in this hamlet belonged to the Katkari Adivasi community. This job gave the youth from Marathwada his first opportunity to interact with a community he had only perhaps r3ead about in books. In his first year there, there were barely 20-22 students, and many of these tended to remain absent.
Alarmed by the abject poverty all around, Jadhav ‘Sir’ grew convinced that education alone could help the Katkari children, and decided to try his best to get them interested in learning.
He says, “The first two or three years were spent just in getting to know the children and their lifestyle. Though they came from poor families where having two square meals in a day was ‘an occasion’, these children were surprisingly sturdy! I knew I had to gain their confidence, and so I would try and spend as much time as possible amongst them. But language was a great barrier. There was a huge difference between my Marathi and their Katkari language. What I called ‘chimnee’ (sparrow), they called ‘chidu’; ‘phulpakhru’ (butterfly) was ‘bhingroot’; ‘paus’ (rains) became ‘paani’. I tried to learn their language, bit by bit. I would learn the Katkari words by drawing objects, or sometimes by pointing to the birds and animals around us.”
Jadhav ‘Sir’ was sincere in his attempts to learn Katkari. While teaching, too, he would try and use words from the dialect as much as possible. The students appreciated his efforts. They found it amazing that a teacher who had come from a faraway place had cared to learn their tongue and speak it – and to explain lessons and poems in it too! And they were impressed that the teacher was making such an effort to make learning easier for them. The students – and their parents – were also pleased by this role reversal, by which it was they who taught the teacher.
As Jadhav ‘Sir’ explains, “There was tremendous difference between the Katkari language that these children spoke at home and the Marathi which was their medium of instruction. They were finding even the Marathi difficult, so expecting them to learn English was out of the question. I was convinced that the only way to enhance their interest in schooling was to teach them in their own mother tongue, at least in the first couple of years. That is why I learned their language, and used it as often as possible while teaching them in class. Soon I could see a positive change. Not only did attendance go up, the interest in learning also increased!”
By the academic year of 2013-14, Jadhav ‘Sir’ had compiled a list of around 100-150 matching words in Katkari and Marathi. This booklet was to help teachers learn Katkari, while also helping students learn Marathi. An article he wrote about this project was published in the June 2014 issue of the ‘Jeevan Shikshan’ magazine, and received a tremendous response. Teachers from all across the state wrote to him, or called to congratulate him.
Though this experience had certainly been encouraging, Jadhav ‘Sir’ was aware that there was a great deal more that needed to be done. In the 141 ZP schools in Roha tehsil alone, there were more than 2500 Katkari-speaking students. Other parts of Maharashtra also had a significant Katkari population. And so, in 2015-16, Jadhav ‘Sir’ translated the entire 1st std Marathi language textbook into the Katkari dialect. This was selected as one of the five innovations in ZP schools to be recognised at the state level.
‘Sir’ has put this textbook into the PDF format and it has been widely shared via WhatsApp, email and pen drives. In 2016-17, he participated in the ‘Shikshanachi Vaari’ programme, which exhibits innovations in education by different state players. His stall attracted many visitors in all the cities to which the exhibition travelled – such as Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad. While interacting with the visitors, ‘Sir’ would confidently advise them, “if you want children to learn, interact with them in their mother tongue, at least at the beginning. You will find that gradually they master the standard language as well.” Many of the 9000 visitors to his stall downloaded the book onto their pen drives or smart phones.
The exhibition publicised Gajanan Jadhav’s project throughout the state. Teachers from regions like Thane, Palghar, Pune, Satara,Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, which have large Katkari populations, were particularly welcoming of this endeavour. They started using Jadhav’s book in their classrooms. The reaction of students was very encouraging, as they were thrilled to hear and read lessons in their mother tongue.
The CEO of Raigad announced that the book would be printed and published, and the Deputy Education Officer, Satara, invited Jadhav ‘Sir’ to hold a series of workshops on the subject in the district. Teachers working in areas of Vidarbha with a large Madia-Gond Adivasi community have ben inspired to create such textbooks in the local dialects.
Meanwhile, Jadhav ‘Sir’ received a transfer to a larger city, but he refused the posting and requested to be transferred back to Roha so that he could continue his work with the Katkari community. He has since been deputed to the ZP school in Santoshnagar as Assistant Teacher. He says, “Though my aim was for the students to learn Marathi through this project, I’m happy to see that they have mastered English as well! More importantly, the number of enrolled students is close to 45 now. Along with the students, I tried to engage the parents in school activities. I kept a first-aid kit in school, tried to educate them about basic hygiene like having a bath every day, washing hands before and after meals, and after using the toilet, cutting nails regularly, to name a few. Today my students are happily learning not only the curriculum but also these life skills. According to me, this is the most important outcome.”
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Photos: Gajanan Jadhav
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team