Kailashben Patel started teaching in 1978. In her first school (Tadwadi village), all the children came from families of agricultural labourers. The school had a single hut-like room. There was no bell, nor were there office records or attendance registers in the school. She was shocked to find the school in such a pathetic and disorganized state.
This was her first exposure to school teaching. When she was unable to mark even the attendance, she lost courage. But she soon realised that fear was not going to help her.She visited each household, and prepared a list of 55 children. She needed to get a picture of who was in school and who was out of it. She started ‘school’ by gathering the children. But she needed to build something fast. When she could not think of anything else, she organised a cultural programme that surprisingly raised Rs.3000. But this was a very small amount. She met the District Education Officer, and explained her problems. He approved one room immediately. He went further and got the Asharam Ashram in Surat to sponsor construction of three more rooms. Finally, the school had four rooms and Classes 1 to 4. With one teacher joining her, she worked hard for seven years to build up that school. The initial steps were actually a series of incidents and strange experiences which only contributed to her resolve. “This gaining of strength, as part of a teacher’s development, is absolutely necessary if one wants to overcome the problems of primary education in difficult areas.” Here are two incidents as illustrations. Just after she had started teaching, a drunkard entered without permission, and said,  “Teacher, teach me also.” She was very scared and retreated into a corner. The more she was afraid, the more he became fearless.
Children were also confused and did not know what to do. The man, who was drunk, moved towards her. Now the children acted. One of the students pushed him from behind and he fell down. All the students thrashed him. This incident taught her that her paralysis was a block, and she was able to handle similar incidents much better after that.  Another problem was the menace of poisonous snakes. Once she found some of the children playing with a snake’s eggs. She decided that poisonous snakes in the school compound and premises had to be killed. She contacted the villagers and they underwent training on identification of snakes and how to get rid of them. They also collected information on the life cycle of snakes. After this, any poisonous snakes that entered the school were killed. This was important to her, since  “the safety of the children was paramount, especially when medical facilities were just not available.” Over a seven-year period, the school was revived. Her goal was not limited to  just enrolling children, but to see to it that they moved into a career track. Thus, the school now has a full strength of 850 children and 15 rooms; many students completed their graduation and are today in a variety of professions. The school works two shifts, and has a nice garden.
After a brief period teaching Class 7 (when she had only taught Classes 1-3 earlier) she was transferred to the Ichchhapor Primary School, where she worked for 14 years. The HM of this school was very strict. She taught in Class 2 for a couple of months, but was then given Class 7, since this class had been left without a teacher. She taught this class for 12 years. Though she liked the strictness of the HM, she did not like his rigidity 25 regarding an exclusive focus on classroom teaching. The school neither held nor participated in cultural programmes or sports festivals outside the village. She decided to open the doors to cultural activities as she believed that  “such activities are very important to explore the hidden potential and skills of children.” The teachers decided to keep the HM out, initially. Kailashben started to train her students for different events behind closed doors. It was a very painful experience for her to be secretive when she was doing something creative and worthwhile. But she felt there was no sense in arguing when the opponent had authority. She decided to achieve results first and then argue. Even her colleagues were not ready to help her openly.
The CRC coordinator saw her work and helped out. On the day of the cultural event, she managed to hire a tractor-trailer and wanted to take the children out through the back of the school. But at the last moment the CRC Coordinator panicked and the plan was exposed to the HM. He tried to prevent the children from going, but Kailashben decided to disobey him for the sake of the children. They went and to the surprise of all, won in nine events out of 13. This was what she had wanted to achieve; the HM came to her house and congratulated her. But he did not allow them to compete at higher levels. She decided to fight him. Officials of the department intervened, and ruled that what she proposed was within the school’s legitimate activities. The HM was transferred. Other teachers refused to become HM and she was given the responsibility. The transferred HM was administratively very effective; his records and accounts were well maintained. Kailashben did not have to face any problem on the technical side. The only limitation was that the school had only about Rs.1000. However, a bigger challenge was to improve the academic output of the school. She started to work in this direction, and introduced songs, jingles, stories, thoughts for the day, into the prayer assembly. This worked and the school introduced group academic activities as part of its calendar. When she was transferred to another remote school (village Bhatpor), she again found the school building in a pathetic condition. The faces of the children did not show joy. The community was by and large illiterate and alcoholism was rampant. Out of five rooms, four were closed. There was a snake hill on the school premises. What was most unbearable for her was the fact that most of the children were addicted to liquor. The school surroundings were an open air toilet. This compelled them to keep the windows closed. Drunken children wandering here and there used to throw stones at the closed windows and doors of the school. Because of this, the doors were all broken. The school walls were covered with obscene graffiti. There were hardly 35 to 40 children. The single teacher working here used to lock herself with these children into a single room. She was very caste-bound and would not even drink water given by others. She used to remain on leave for long periods. In short, there was no one to look after the school and students, or to give a hand to the community to emerge from its living hell. One day, as soon as she had joined, Kailashben was talking to the class, and found that a girl of Class 3 was unable to stand. Initially she thought that the girl was not well and tried to talk to her. But instead of answering the questions, the girl just kept smiling with saliva oozing from her mouth. When she asked the other girls what was wrong, they told her, “Teacher, she is drunk.” It was a terrible moment, and the question that came 26 up with force was,  “How can this be possible?” Other voices came in response, “Teacher, I am also drunk. Last night we did not have anything to eat. So my mother and father gave me local  liquor to drink.” Out of 55, 27 children were drunk. She thought to herself, “What is this school and where is the education we talk about?” “Life imposed this on me, and I accepted my share. I took this neither as a test of my life nor of any abilities. I just began with the simple realisation that I should try to move them from darkness to light.” Her previous experience at Tadwadi, where the children had been from the same community but had been in better shape, came to her assistance. She helped them prepare a schedule for daily activities of bodily cleanliness. She taught them to take up some cleanliness work at home, like cleaning the home, the verandah, to prepare Rangoli at the door step with flour (as they had never seen soil normally used to prepare Rangoli). These children did not know what sweets like Penda and Barfi tasted like, and so she prepared sweet prasad for them. She scheduled street cleaning campaigns every ten months. The school surroundings needed much work. The liquor outlet nearby, youngsters gambling, and their generally filthy state, did not help at all. One day she came out of the school and went to meet a parent (a liquor producer) whose daughter studied in my school. She greeted him. He was shocked to see her there. Despite  being drunk, he offered her a seat. But without giving him any time she asked him, “How can you live in such a dirty place? School is the temple of goddess Saraswati. Do you think it is good to have a temple in the middle of filth? Why do you allow people to spoil the place?” This outburst had the desired effect. He gathered people from the village. Half of them were drunk. But they went to work immediately and made a five-foot hedge of babool. They then controlled the children who were throwing stones. The parent then started to ask her if there was some way he could help. She requested him, “Can’t you move the liquor shop a little further away from the school towards the river bank?” He was so affected that he closed the shop. Developing the Bhatpor school Kailashben planted trees behind the school building. She put subject teaching aside and collected about 40 songs which could be sung, and made the children play local games till they got tired. She got some sports equipment from a public sector company, GAIL. The school now had three teachers, and the teachers played games like badminton, volley ball, ambli pipli, saat thikdi, with the children. The children were also made to clean lice from each other’s heads.
The public sector company also built good toilets for the people, but the outlets were choked with stones, pieces of glass and soil. I wrapped a plastic bag around my hand and cleaned one toilet outlet. When the children and teachers saw this, a teacher (who had just joined the school) and the  children cleaned the others. The school had water storage facilities but there was no water, since there was no meter. She acquired one. One teacher donated five fans. Thus were arrangements made for water and fans. One day the teachers thought that since they were spending so much time in school, there 27 should be better physical conditions. She contacted a cooperative society in Hazira. The entire belt of schools got donations of Rs.11,111 each. The school building was painted with distemper. Now the school building looked much more pleasant. Even after rigorous efforts of six months to keep the children away from liquor, there were some children who came drunk. When she again tried to find out the reason, Kailashben found that their parents sent them to buy liquor. And of course, when food was in short supply, liquor was handy. She again met the parent who had helped her previously. He intervened and took upon himself the task of educating the parents not to send children to buy liquor, or give liquor to children. But this posed a new challenge. Due to irregular supply of mid-day meals, a crucial input into schooling in such areas, the children were getting irregular meals. Again Kailashben asked GAIL for help. With their help she could provide sweet milk to the children. Often she herself made doodhpak (rice and sweetened milk). However, this help was dependent on an officer, and when he was transferred, the milk stopped. However, Kailashben is very proud of the fact that once the liquor habit had been broken, the children quit drinking completely and began to enjoy their childhood.

The final result has been that the villagers themselves look after the school building when she was on vacation. The youth who used to deface the school have now dumped 10 tractor loads of soil to level the school ground. There is no disturbance in teaching during the day. A seating arrangement has been made under the banyan tree outside the school compound. Now the people are more ready to help, and if she tries to give money for something, they say,  “No teacher, we cannot take your money.”  With the children, their self esteem has grown. They understand that liquor and tobacco addictions are bad. Five students have progressed to secondary school level. Since classroom activities became regular, it was easier for the children to participate in school science fairs, at the block level, and once at the district level. The school has won many prizes and has also secured second and third places at the state level. It took four years to achieve all this, but Kailashben thinks it will take some more time for overcoming the obstacles to academic achievement and make schooling sustainable. Even now, though students of Class 5 are able to read and write, they cannot speak well. One factor that has helped Kailashben is her participation in the activities of a socioreligious group, the Swadhyay Parivar. On one of her visits to her home village, she found out about this group, joined it, and learned to tell stories from scriptures like Ramayan and Mahabharat and how to involve children in different games. She has applied this learning in her educational practice. She also learned the value of self reliance and this she has tried to communicate to her children. She attributes her attitude to community and children’s welfare to the influence of a religious guru.


Popular posts from this blog

ગમતી નિશાળ:અનોખી શાળા.

ન્યાયાધીશ અને માસ્તર

અશ્વત્થામા અને સંજય જોષી