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In a small village called Baarali in Udupi district of Karnataka, a government school has overcome its critical problem of rising student dropout rates. All thanks to a local teacher, Rajaram.
Rajaram has been doing two jobs–teaching the students, and driving them to and from school so that no one misses out on their education just because they can’t reach school.
Speaking to The Better India, the 47-year-old teacher says, “Many students come from far-off places, around 6-10 kilometres away or more, through a forest area. And it is not possible for them to walk all the way to school. Due to this reason, a lot of them were frequently dropping out. That’s when I realised that I had to do something to remedy this.”
Not the usual science and mathematics teacher, Rajaram was perturbed that the school with classes from 1-7 had only 50 students in all.
He realised that repeated attempts to convince parents and spread awareness about the need for education were futile when faced with practical problems like this.
“This is a remote area, and the students come from poor backgrounds, so dropping out of school might not feel important to parents. But, I couldn’t see them go back to the fields working beside their parents when they should be studying in the school,” shares Rajaram.
He adds that many girls were also dropping out due to the lack of a proper road to reach school, as the path passes through a forest area. Owing to the quick fall in total headcount, the Baarali Government Higher Primary School was at the risk of shutting down.
However, it was then that an ex-student, Vijay Hegde, came to their rescue with financial help. The owner of a property management company in Bengaluru, Vijay was approached by Rajaram to help him buy a bus to pick up and drop the students.
With Vijay’s help and that of another alumna Ganesh Shetty, Rajaram managed to buy a school bus. But, the next challenge was to find a responsible driver.
When he realised that the cost of hiring a driver would be a more significant burden on him, he decided to take up this responsibility on his own shoulders.
“With the small government salary, I could not afford to pay Rs 7,000 a month to a driver, so I took driving lessons and got myself a license and thus, began riding it to transport students to the school.”
Today, Rajaram’s usual day begins with waking up at dawn to make as many as four trips to pick up students. By 9:30 am, he makes sure all the students are in school, thus switching roles from a driver to a teacher!
Eventually, from 50 students, the headcount rose to 90.
With a vision to further upgrade the school and encourage more students to join, Rajaram is planning to set up better toilets for girls, a track for students to practice 100 m and 200 m sprints, and many more sports activities.
He concludes, “Although money is a problem, I am sure that with patience and the help of our alumni, it is definitely achievable!”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)