A lesson on Values.

“Let us organise an event in the village with the help of the students to raise awareness” responded the teacher in response to a query by an anxious parent. Student enrollment in this school was declining alarmingly. I was following a conversation between a parent and the teacher on the issue of dwindling school enrollment. One might be forgiven for thinking: Why on Earth does a parent care about the school enrollment of a government school? We will come to this question in a bit, but it is interesting to note that this question is puzzling not just parents and teachers but even governments!

Regardless of the continuing philosophical debates over the merits of public and private education, the trend is there for all to see. Private schools and educational institutions are on a steam roll. Just to rest the case in point, Wayanad, where I am based, a tribal district of Kerala, has almost 40 per cent children aged 6 to 14 enrolled in the private schools according to the ASER report 2016. It is curious because Kerala, a leader in a major educational index across the country, boasts robust public education system. In 2017 Budget, Kerala allocated 36.74% of its development expenditure to education.

This article is not aimed at addressing the pressing debates of education but is rather an anecdotal impression of a value practised on a day to day basis. The account emerges from my role as a field investigator tasked with conducting a base line study for ‘Mulyavardhan’ in government schools in Goa from 6th January to 16th January 2017. The study, of which I was a part of, was anchored by Samidha Bhuuddeshiya Sanstha in coordination with the Directorate of Education, SCERT, GDEC, Govt of Goa. Government of Goa is implementing Mulyavardhan with the support of Shantilal Mutta Foundation. Mulyavardhan, developed by SMF, is a school based programme on nurturing democratic citizenship in students.

Morning assembly
Government Lower Primary School, Palaskatta, an unassuming school in the picturesque outskirts of the village, Mollem. The school has one teacher, two classrooms, four standards, four toilets, twenty one students and no playground. Each class was split between two standards and a single teacher was responsible for both the classrooms. The teacher is expected to perform this feat of conducting both the classrooms single-handedly almost daily. I marveled at the ingenuity of the school leader/teacher in managing both the class. It was interesting to note that both the classrooms had easy access to materials that children could creatively engage with, apart from children books, charts, movable alphabets, paintings etc. One class had weighing scale tied to the ceiling.

Movable Alphabets
Let's play

Reading section

Plenty of things to do and learn…..
Even though the classroom was modeled around the conventional teacher centered set up with benches and desks, children were allowed to move around freely and were active partners in building and sharing knowledge.  By any standards, children enjoyed freedom of expression that I could only dream of. Perhaps the small classroom size has something to do with it. I wonder how many school leaders and schools which operate on an industrial scale can pull off this feat.  Perhaps there is indeed wisdom in “Small is beautiful”.

Classroom session in action

Coming back to the benign looking question posed by the parent about student enrollment. The discussion was aimed at exploring the possibility of having one more teacher in the school.  According to the state policy, GLPS Palaskatta will be eligible for an additional teacher post once the number of student goes above 25, five more than the present number. An additional teacher would ease the difficult of a single teacher having to juggle two classrooms at the same time. Keeping the trivialness aside, what was remarkable in the discussion was the sense of participation and concern reciprocated by the parent towards the school. To my mind, it was an act that was reminiscent of pulling down the imaginary wall, which exists between the school and the community. I imagine this could have been possible only by the combined efforts of a committed school leader and an equally participative community.

I was touched by the concern shown by the parent towards the school and the teacher/school leader. In addition to all that we observed and noted as part of the base line study, one aspect that left an indelible impression on me was the school leader’s motivation and commitment towards school and children. The internal drive to single handedly manage teaching, assessment, feedback, communication with parents and community, meetings, record keeping and a thousand other, big and small administrative work that oil the system left me speechless. In our interaction with the school leader, it was evident that the phrase “I do it because I enjoy it” was not just figurative, but real and alive in spirit. I left the school with the borrowed aura of humility and a sense of purpose- a value.

Reflecting back on my visit to GLP Palaskatta, and my interaction with the school leader, I firmly believe that, amid all the gloom engulfing the public education system, a self motivated school leader/teacher can bring about affirmative changes in the way a child experiences education in the school and beyond. I saluted the school leader and left short of asking if she was educated in a private school or a government school?


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