By Avijit Arya:
During the last year of my undergraduate journey at IIT Bombay, I started signing the job application forms of the placement cell when my peers started applying. However, I had my own doubts. I wanted to explore other options. I knew that I do not want an 8-hour job in the office. I wanted to work for someone who isn’t as privileged in terms of competition. I wanted to utilise the skills I had for someone who needed them. Someone who has the potential but lacks the adequate support and the push towards a better life.
In spite of these thoughts constantly nagging me in the back of the mind, I was all set to embrace the corporate sector for a ‘better lifestyle’. This was the time when I saw the application form for the Gandhi Fellowship. The job description talked about changing the face of the rural government schools and working with the headmasters. And that was it. It suddenly became clear that I wanted to work at the grassroots level to understand the school system. I had set my eyes on the fellowship and I was ready to explore!
After the general induction was over, I was allotted this beautiful hilly area of Udaipurwati, a block in the Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan. As the number of visits to the schools increased, it became evident that government schools have been fighting a losing battle to hordes of issues. Some of these issues are school specific, the others are common to all.
While the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan seems to have been able to set up schools in the remotest of the areas to ensure the enrolment of students between 6-14 years, the quality of education remains a concern.
Mushrooming of private schools in areas, dropping enrolment, low teacher motivation and capacity, bitter relationship between school and the community, lack of proper learning space and opportunities are a few.
Students learn the most from their teachers. It hence becomes important to empower and encourage them. Ever since my first visit, the teachers have been asking me to take classes, often giving the reason of lesser number of teachers or the burden of paperwork. However, I avoided taking classes unless necessary. Why? Because I realised that a certain Avijit taking the classes won’t solve the issue.
Instead of taking classes, I felt that students would benefit more if a better instructional strategy than the traditional rote learning is adopted or if the teachers and students inculcate the homework culture on a regular basis. I decided to work on these areas because I found that these would be more sustainable.
With the mushrooming private schools in the localities, even in government school catchment areas, the enrolment in the government schools have been dwindling. Add to this the community relationship, the image of the school, the financial stability, the sophistication of the private schools and lot of internal politics and you can predict how fast the government schools would become irrelevant. But private schools don’t necessarily mean better education either. My next focus hence is to increase the enrolment in the government schools in collaboration with the district education machinery in a campaign mode stretching over a period of 2 months.
A human being learns more if the subject matter is presented in some practical form unlike the general education scene of the country. Bearing this in mind, I have been working on providing affordable subject matter in audio and visual form that would aid learning. One of the modifications is making the school building print-rich with posters or paints (also known as BaLA, an acronym for ‘Building as Learning Aid’) that visually stimulates the students and also help in better cognitive development. I am also working on developing multimedia content that can be stored on a memory card and includes activities aligned with the chapters of the course book and would include both audio and visual aids for students and guides and other chapter aids for the teachers. The storage device can be used with the multimedia device of the teachers or the tablet which would be issued to the HM by the organisation.
All in all, I am satisfied by the choice that I made, but frustration sets in at times. I have learnt a lot from the various people and resources I have had a chance to interact with. I have begun to understand the various kinds of competencies that are needed to bring about a social change. A child who has no resources to study would have nowhere to go if a government school closes down.
Although I understand that 2 years might not be enough to bring about a drastic change in the system, I believe that if the right step is made along with the others in the right direction, change is inevitable. I wish that these children grow up into successful human beings of the future and from what I have been observing, they will. As for me, I am happy that I am able to give something back to the society.
Applications for the Gandhi Fellowship close on 31st March 2016.