Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Visit to Arasikere

Arasikere is a small block in Karnataka (district of Hassan), around 230 kms from Bangalore. Azimpremji Foundation conducted its Education Leadership and Management (ELM) program in some of the schools in the district and this has lead to a few changes in the way some schools work in the region.

A group of 40 of us visited the block to find out the results. We visited the Government primary school in the Somenahalli village where a group of children formed two long lines parallel to each other and awaited us eagerly. They broke into a welcome song after which the teachers, lead by the Head Teacher, requested us to plant a sapling. Thus a beautiful coconut tree sapling was planted in a pit. The school was beautiful to look at with a spacious playground. Good quality toilets were being built, the MDM (Mid-Day Meal) kitchen was neat and hygienic, and the classrooms though small were well maintained. One more striking factor in the place was the compost pit that was built and maintained. The manure obtained from here was used to fuel the growth of the many beautiful trees and plants around.

We then got down to a small discussion round with the teachers and the community members from the village that had turned up in good number (around 22). We took turns asking questions which were answered alternately by the school administrators and the community. One of the members from our team was translating from Kannada to Hindi and vive-versa. Some of the salient points of the discussion that brought out the benefit of the ELM program are highlighted below:

  • ·         School mapping is being practised in this school. At the beginning of each year, three teams are formed in the school – one comprising of students, one of teachers, and one from the community. These teams go around the school and note down the current status of the school. They also dream about the ideal school and write down the facilities that should be present in an ideal school. They then compare these two schools and write down the differences in facilities between these.
  • ·         Zero plan – This is the first draft of the school plan that is compiled at the start of the year. This includes details of the school mapping and ideas that can be explored in order to address the shortcomings. This plan is prepared by the school administration and the community members including the parents.
  • ·         Community mobilization techniques have been so effectively used here that many items in the school have been donated by the villagers themselves. Examples can include the school gate, plates for the MDM and so on. Even a part of the school land was donated by a member of the community.
  • ·         It is a known fact that has also been proven time and again by research that children whose parents actively take interest in their activities in school will do better than others whose parents do not. The administration has prepared a checklist for parents that helps them to spend time focusing on their children’s education. They encourage their parents to follow a schedule that resembles the following:
  • o   4:30-5:00 pm – Child to relax after a long day in school and freshen up
  • o   5:00-6:00 pm – Play time
  • o   6:00-7:00 pm – Helping around the house
  • o   7:00–8:00 pm – Homework
  • o   8:00-9:00 pm – Dinner
  • o   9:00-9:30 pm – Math work
  • o   9:30 pm – Lights out
  • Now how do you ensure that the parents actually check the notes of the children regularly? All parents are called to the school once a month or once in two months, the books of all the children are displayed in a row, each parent has to go through the notes in the books and identify his or her child’s handwriting. Very innovative indeed!

 ·         A parent lived in a neighbouring district with his family. Not satisfied with the quality of the government school in that place, he enrolled his boy into a private school. Once he was in Somenahalli to meet his in-parents-law when he chanced upon this school. He was so impressed with the facilities here that he instantly moves his son to this school. ‘Free food, free education, and above all, wonderful facilities and administration, why would I spend my money on a private school? And my wife has to get up early, prepare breakfast and lunch.’ is what he had to say.  ‘Plus the private schools charge around Rs 400 for transport daily, this amounts to around Rs 8000 per month if you assume 20 parents send children to that school. A part of this money that we save every month, we want to invest back into this well-run public school,’ is what another parent had to say, and this was followed by applause that didn’t end for about a minute.
·         The shift in attitude of the school administration is very evident as nowadays, they visit the community when the community is free i.e in the evenings after school time. Earlier the community had to come to the school when the school was functioning, and that was also the time when people had to go to the fields to work. So attendance was poor and there was hardly any interaction between the two parties.

Considerable changes have happened in the course of the last two years and these surely are a good start. There would be roadblocks on the way, but the administration seemed to be confident and ready to take on the challenges.

Later in the day, we met some senior education representatives in the state. ‘One of the main problems,’ they said ‘is the threat posed by the private schools to our enrolment. Since government schools do not start from Kindergarten, parents who enrol their kids in LKG and UKG are used to the private system and do not want to shift to government schools in the first standard. So they stay where they are. To counter this, we are experimenting with providing kindergarten education too. Few schools in our district have started LKG/UKG classes and we are hoping this will improve enrolment. We offer variety of activities for the children like yoga, music/art classes, indoor games etc.’

Mindblowing? Read on for more…

‘We have started the concept of Open libraries.’ Till now, books used to reach schools and lie rotting in their unopened packages as teachers fear that the kids would tear them or lose them. So we started Open libraries, wherein books would be spread out across a room and kids could come and take whichever books they wanted and how many ever they wanted. All they had to do was let the library in-charge know and she would make an entry. This has improved reading/learning skills to an extent and in a few schools, even the community is encouraged to borrow from these libraries.’

There were many (at times cynical) questions posed regarding the impact these changes have had on the learning outcomes of children, but for me, more than the learning outcome (this will take a longer time), it is the attitude shift in the educational system and in the community that is remarkable. Ideas and ideologies are long outdated, people have resigned to poor standards of education in fact event elevating it to the status of ‘acceptable’, and so the malaise is deep rooted. Head teachers and educational functionaries well into their 40s just want to complete their tenure and retire with benefits, not attend workshops and training sessions and try to change things around. In this milieu, bringing about enough perspective shift to achieve what has been stated above, to me, is a win.

Let the wheels keep turning, the pace will improve, slowly….surely!