Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lessons from a village school: energy, honesty and the price of pessimism

In this post, Gandhi fellow Kabir Arora writes about the school in Rajasthan where he did his village immersion. What is working? What is holding it back?

Rajkiya Ucch Prathamik Vidyalaya-Chhota Lohsana

The school assigned to me was a kilometer or two from the accommodation. An old building with eleven rooms, a kitchen, two toilets never opened and two Ghomut. One hundred forty five kids, 8 classes with 5 teachers, a PT Instructor and a cook. Being a nodal school, it should have staff of 9 people. Doesn't matter! Government Schools are not made for educating masses but data collection centers.

The school is being lead by Bhagirath ji, second to him is Mr. Satpal who teaches English. Hindi is assigned to the lady teacher whose name I don't remember now. Maths is the responsibility of Bhagirath ji and Mr. Surjit for junior classes. Mr. Vijay takes Social Sciences period, the PT instructor is given health education. The subjects which are left are taken collectively.
The classes which were offered to me in platter were 1st,2nd , 3rd, 4th & 8th standard. For primary classes I used to take mathematics while I took Geography voluntarily for the senior most class.

The very first day at school I was thrown to fifth standard. Found myself totally confused. Did some random exercises from their maths text book. Later the Headmaster (HM) sensed that I'm not worth for that class so I was never sent their again.

1st and 2nd Standard used to sit together, I used to take their class for an hour after the midday meal. I'd take 3rd standard in the first and 4th in the second hour. In between those two classes we used to have pani peshab ki chhuti (break for ten minutes to go to toilet or satisfy thirst).

1st-2nd collectively had around twenty five kids, while 3rd had 18 students but only 12-15 used to turn up. Lowest number was in 4th with only 10 class members. Lot of activities were repeated from the LQ and I took the school as continuation of the same process. Here the response of kids was amazing. Many kids were so straightforward that they used to argue with me. Affection was shown through gestures like hugging, holding my finger.

The “prayer” was banned by Rajasthan Government to stop the flow of Swine Flu. Surprisingly my school staff took it literally. They used to have assembly where prathna was not done. Registers were filled with attendance, while demotivating speeches were delivered by both Headmaster and the PT instructor. Instead of passing optimism around, they promoted negativity in the school to motivate kids, but no progress from other side.

Bhagirath is meditating, but Ganges is hesitant to flow!
Mr. Bhagirath Singh Sunda, commonly referred “Bhagirath Ji”, is the headmaster of school. A very interesting person with good height and old man kind of looks. I met him last time in a Jaipur Kick start workshop. Not much interaction happened between us. But he seems to question everything, very high expectations and like to do role modeling. Sometimes he would grab attention by being very vocal. This was my image before meeting him. The moment I reached the school, he was ready to shoot me with his questions. The moment I entered his house, he was filled with humility of a host. A very different side of his character.

He seems to be an ideal teacher for rural belt. Punctual and walks very fast, I literally have to run behind him. I liked to attend his class which is always full of chaos and vibrancy. The new teaching techniques are used. Kids love him, talk to him with no fear. He likes to sing with them, they too enjoy his company. This is only for the kids in primary classes.

He is always criticizing the kids of senior classes on the ground of behavior and their laid back attitude to study. The whole school is actually falling under the category of fear free. Still, the PT instructor uses his hand sometimes on kids, but he is very much attached to them too.

The headmaster always complains about the extra work passed by the government to teachers. For the state, teaching in school is the last priority. He even stated that the government just want to close all the government schools. The quality is degrading but the teachers are not the only ones to be blamed. The state is equally responsible for it. In front of my eyes, he received a post in which he was asked to submit the minute details of midday meal from year 2001 to 2010 to Midday Meal department in four days.

Why is the state not hiring clerks to do this job, there is large scale underemployment and unemployment all around? The headmaster never missed his class because of the statistical work, the time after school was used complete it. Everyday he used to stay in school for hours after it is officially over, filling the files, answering queries forwarded by various departments. He was honest to his job. Because of his high expectations and role modeling in the school, a very different environment especially for teachers has been created. When he is in school all teachers will take their class. Otherwise they will have leisure time except the PTI and the lady teacher who were regular to their respective classes.

He also seems to be very much unsatisfied with the performance of his team. Most of the time he underestimates the person next to him. On my part I had to show him the demo so that he acts to my advice. At many places I was very hesitant to talk to him because of his idealization of himself. Working with him at times was fun, sometimes frustrating. Especially so because both of us carried our formal and professional relationship at home too, which disconnected me from his realities. At certain instances I felt like running out of the fence created around me. Something was there stopped me. The life at his home was lavish, filled with loneliness all around.

We used to reflect together on the day's act. He is very pessimistic person, so I was forced to put my pessimism aside. He used to come to the room with thoughts about how nothing works here. From my literary interest, I used to pick up tales and anecdotes and narrate them to him. How a dumb student like Vardraj became Sanskrit Grammar expert Pannini. Transformation done by Tarun Bharat Sangh in Alwar. Panchayati Raj institution performing amazingly in Uttarakhand, organic farming changing lives of farmers were all incidents narrated to him to make him optimistic. He also concluded that things take time to change, we should do our Karma.

In evenings it used to be like a grandson telling tales with positive note to his grandfather. At one instance he asked me if I'm placed in his position with the similar sort of team how will I work. I was lost for a moment, gathered courage to say that even I'll loose my interest, but will keep on heading and searching for inspiration to move forward.

There is a strong rivalry going between the PT instructor and the headmaster. One day, the PTI took me aside, opened his heart and complained about same thing which even I noticed. Bhagirath ji constantly blamed the lack of interest of parents in their wards' education. All the miseries in school had guardians as their convicts.

If I'm asked what is the one sole thing which I would want to see changed in his attitude, it would be turning negativity to a ray of hope, accepting the individuals the way they are. The moment it happens school will reach its level of perfection, everything will come on track. My hypothesis! 
For more of Kabir's experiences, see:
If I were my own teacher: confidence, colour and voices
Steep Climb 
Tourist Guide  


  1. I'm glad you are writing about your experience, it's a real eye opener.

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