Saturday, January 25, 2014

‘Right way’ to education: Support the village schoolteacher

‘Right way’ to education: Support the village schoolteacher

Frank Krishner, TNN Sep 2, 2013, 04.24AM IST

Earlier this week, the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) invited a select group of educationists, activists, and members of the Bihar human resource development fraternity to share the 'key findings' of a survey of some 375 and odd government primary schools and neighbourhood communities across the 38 districts of Bihar. SCPCR chairperson Nisha Jha said the aim of the study was to monitor how seriously Bihar takes the right to education.
The study threw up two interesting facts: In government primary schools today, 51 per cent of the students are girls; and the proportion of students from SC, ST and 'Mahadalit' backgrounds is comparable to the size of their population. It also indicated that School Management Committees with active parent participation should be formed as soon as possible.
Some of the cynics present said it was another shallow exercise. They said that it really said nothing new. But those stuck on statistics are missing the real story. More kids are going to school in Bihar than ever before, and some credit must be given to the tenacity and determination of the much misunderstood village schoolmaster.
The extent and quality of relationship between the schools and the communities they serve can be gauged from the reactions of those who interact with the school, and the observations of the neighbours.
On a visit to Vaishali a year ago, to look at some aspects of classroom pedagogy in the context of the Right to Education Act, one came across the Kartahan Bujurg Purvi Navsrijit Primary School. The school had no boundary wall, and only one teacher dividing his attention to five classes, one of which was housed in a veranda with no roof. The school campus was spotless, the surroundings swept and neat. The decibel levels were surprisingly low even though 130 of the 138 kids aged 6 to 11 were present that day.
Some inquisitive women walked across the road and into the premises. Two young men accompanied them. "Our kids study in this school," said the women, "and we are quite satisfied that there is good teaching here. We want the government to send at least two more teachers, then it can be even better."
Prabha Devi's sons Rahul and Roop Kumar were enrolled in the fourth and second grade, respectively. Her daughter had gone on to the middle school. "The teaching in the middle school is not as good as it is here. Here the teacher cares of all the students and the school."
Pradeep Kumar had come to check up on his younger cousin. He stated that a couple of years ago, the school was in a mess. "The teachers were not regular. There was garbage outside the school. People tied their cattle near the entrance and there was filth and cow dung all over the place. When this teacher, Gauri Shanker Shukla came, he began to clean up this place himself.
Seeing this, the neighbouring people also helped him. He told us, "If you want your kids to study in a clean environment, you have to help me to make it one, so one by one, people began cooperating with him."
The mother of Neha Kumari, Manisha and Manjusha Kumari said the parents always feel welcome to the school. "The woman teacher is away on maternity leave, but she is expected back. Even though there are only two teachers, teaching is done in such a way that every child learns something," she said. Neighbours always kept a watchful eye on the school.
The teacher displayed a fine understanding of Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation. He could show completed child profiles of the students and school achievement records and spoke enthusiastically about what could be achieved if the school development plan was followed.
When visited, NPS Bhatuli Bhagwan (Paswan Tola) had no classroom, no land, and classes were conducted under a mango tree. That's the way it had been for Sant Lal Rajak, teaching under the tree since 2003, in summer, winter and the rainy season. When it poured, the classes shifted to the 'doorway' of the village headman Jagdish Paswan. It had been nine years with no classrooms for some 150 enrolled kids in grades one through five.
Jagdish Paswan said that there's no land available for a school, and it would make sense if the government bought part of someone's field or mango grove to construct a small building.
Two young men, now students of Vishan Rai College at Bhagwanpur. claimed to be students of the school. "We too learnt the basics under these trees," said 18-year-old Avinash Kumar and Raj Babbar Kumar, and things haven't changed. "Our teachers always faced hardships, but they would do their best to deliver. Sure this master is devoted and comes on time, but he is not supported by providing a good working space."
"We do our part, sometimes, if we see any kid playing around and not coming to school; we motivate them a bit," said Babbar. "But we're not convinced that the government is really serious about education if the kids can't have a place to study and are exposed to the elements. You can't call this a safe environment." The community gave the two 'panchayat teachers' full marks for teaching their kids with whatever means they had at their disposal.
A year later, the SCPCR's sample study on the implementation of right to education in Bihar says that panchayats and local authorities have a stake in achieving the goal. They must carry out their responsibilities in the implementation of the RTE Act. Families and communities have a decisive role to play to ensure child-friendly elementary education for every girl and boy in Bihar. Support your village schoolteacher.

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