The students of the Government Upper Primary School, Baheri, Uttarakhand, enjoy the latest Punjabi rap songs and are aware of the all the trends in smartphones, but their dreams are not imprisoned by the lures of urban life.
Ask them what their favourite foods are, and they will tell you about the mandua (millet) rotis of Garhwal and the greens that complement them. Ask them about their favourite chilling spots, and they may lead you to the river bend for a dip in the Bal Ganga.
Given fifteen minutes to collect and identify the leaves of at least five different plants in a treasure hunt, they will run back with laden fists in well under two minutes.
So, sometimes unwittingly and sometimes willingly, they respect the wheat fields, the chir pine forests and streams of Tehri as alternative classrooms.
Mount Valley Development Association (MVDA) has been working on improving the quality of education received by public school children in the Bhilangana Valley for close to two decades. Over the past year, they have implemented a programme funded by the Tata Trust towards an Integrated Approach to Technology in Education (I.T.E).
In a state riddled by palayan (migration), one might ask if the chance to learn computers would be treated as an early ticket to the plains, but the students of Baheri have their own ideas.
As a group dominated by girls aspiring to join the IPS or serve as doctors, they used their technological knowledge to speak to locals about social and ecological issues.
G.U.P.S Baheri is situated in the midst of a small farmland. Every morning, the children are packed away to school after helping their mothers with household chores, and at the close of classes at around two in the afternoon, they return home for a serving of their mothers’ daal bhat.
As we sat discussing issues of gender and employment, the students vociferously exclaimed how the burden of work fell on the shoulders of their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. They were saddened to learn how government schemes and officials assume that farmers are male.
Together, we decided to collate their thoughts in the form of a podcast to reach wider audiences. Students like Priyanshu and Vinita took the lead in scripting and recording it.
After we played divine and other social music from different parts of the country, young hip-hop enthusiasts, Sonakshi and Arun, presented their pahari social rap.
Listen to their podcast below.
So far, the students have shared their podcast with fellow schoolmates and at wider gatherings of public school students such as an I.T.E Mela held in April earlier this year.
The walls of Baheri and the neighbouring village of Chamiyala are adorned with paintings advertising the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. However, parts of the surrounding fields and opens spaces are pitifully un-swachh.
Enter the students of Baheri.
After a pollution testing field trip, they wrote an article on the threats to local water sources. The article was shared across local schools at the I.T.E Mela. While this was the first such endeavour, we have no doubt that more will follow.
The students tested the quality of the water near their local dhara (spring), the sewage gully leading from the spring to the nala (river) and the Bal Ganga river. They did not depend upon fancy equipment, but used their senses of smell, taste and sight.
They discerned an overwhelmingly bleachy smell in much of the water and identified the culprit through the half-torn packets of washing powder that lie strewn beside the nala. After an excursion to the fields, they sat back and typed out an article, hoping to spread awareness about water pollution in their village.
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These modest projects might seem like small beginnings, but the combination of field work and computers was an immense source of pleasure for students. An education in technology which gives rural students a sense of self-affirmation could counter the feelings of insecurity they face vis-à-vis their counterparts in fancy metro cities.
The copyright to the podcast belongs to the I.T.E students of Baheri G.U.P.S. This work was facilitated by Hirak Sharma and Nivedita Nath, with the kind assistance of the MVDA team.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)