According to a survey conducted by the Department of Public Instructions, there were about 2,750 private schools in Bengaluru in 2016. To have your child enrolled in one is a matter of great pride to many.
I remember my house-help, Lakshmi, bringing me sweets to celebrate her son’s admission to a private school. The fee she was paying was costing her an arm and a leg, but she was thrilled. It was a private school, after all
At a time when private education is booming in India, there are people like 69-year-old H Venkatesha, who have spent close to four decades working towards the upliftment of Kodigehalli Primary Government School, in a suburb in India’s Silicon City.
A simple Google search about schools in Kodigehalli shows that while there are at least three dozen private schools in the area, there are only a handful of government schools.
In this exclusive interview with The Better India, Venkatesha speaks about the challenges of a government school, the joy he feels in seeing the children excel, and his vision for the school and its children.
When I asked him to speak about himself, he chuckles, “What do I say about myself? I am a retired officer from the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) and spent all my working life there. I grew up with a lot of hardships.”
Venkatesha’s father also worked at the ITI but had a difficult life. Despite trying very hard, he was not able to provide for his family in a manner he wanted to.
“I am the product of a government school too. With immense difficulty, I completed my education and managed to do well for myself. My parents could not afford to pay the hefty fee that private schools charged,” he says.
He has four children, of whom, his son Vivek, is also an active contributor and supporter in the development of the school. “Education is the only thing that I could equip my children with, and today, they are all doing very well for themselves,” he says.
Challenges of a government school
It is one thing to set up a school and another to ensure that it functions well. He says, “The government has made sure that there is a school in Kodigehalli, but its condition has never been of any concern to the officials.”
This school came into existence in 1978 and Venkatesha has been an active participant since.
“How can we expect these kids to excel when even the basic requirements are not fulfilled? There is a classroom but no furniture, there is a toilet but no water; the list of complaints is endless. Not wanting to wait for the government to take note and act, I decided to work towards this,” he says.
A majority of the students who attend this school are children of daily wage labourers.
Getting them enrolled was a huge challenge for him.
“Parents found it easier to take the children to their places of work rather than have them attend the school. I have gone door-to-door trying to convince them,” says Venkatesha.
The school offers classes for the students from classes 1 to 5, with a present strength of 80. Venkatesha has remained the President of the School Development and Maintenance Committee for the last 39 years.
“This is a position that normally only a parent holds, but I have been elected to this year-on-year because the parents want me to continue my association and work here,” he says.
“I do not want any deserving student ever to be deprived of a good education,” he says.
He goes on to say that unless all students are given equal opportunities, it would be unfair to expect them to compete and excel.
“The kids in the government school have no access to technology, while today, everything works on technology. These are basic points, but unless they are addressed, there can be no progress,” he says.
He adds, “Did you know that each child studying in the government school is given Rs 200 to buy shoes to last an entire year? Not only this, but they are also given two sets of uniform material but no money to get it stitched!” notes Venkatesha, adding, “It is almost as though the school is encouraging parents to keep their children away from schools.”
Venkatesha very proudly tells me that he has hoisted the national flag 79 times so far; on Republic Day and Independence Day for the last 39 years in his association with the school.
“I do not even try and invite politicians or others to hoist the flag, I take great pride in my work and feel that I deserve to do this year after year,” he says.
Venkatesha is pained as he tells me that education is the foundation and if we are unable to provide this basic need for children, then we are failing them. Many times, parents are unable to send their children to school; to address this, a caretaker has been appointed who goes to each home and brings the children to school.
Over the years, Venkatesha and his family have ensured that the school is equipped with basic facilities – sweaters, a water purifier, shoes, steel plates and glasses, and uniforms as well.
“These are things that the government ought to be doing. Unfortunately, in so many years of my association, I have not seen it being done,” says Venkatesha.
If you would like to donate books, stationery, furniture, or even uniforms, then you can contact Vivek, Venkatesha’s son, who also helps in running the school.
Vivek can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We, at The Better India, wish Venkatesha’s dedication inspires many more people.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)