Broken benches, a massive staff crunch, poor quality of infrastructure, irregular attendance and the lack of motivation to study or teach are the usual scenarios associated with government schools, especially in rural areas.
Figures back up this unfortunate plight. As per a 2018 ASER report, nearly 57 per cent of students aged between 14-18 could not solve a class IV mathematics problem and over 40 per cent kids failed to locate their state on the Indian map. Less than half of them were unable to read a simple sentence in English (such as “What is the time?”).
Thankfully, all is not doomed for 60 per cent of India’s school-going children as some schools are going the extra mile despite the financial crunch, and genuinely making a difference. These efforts have been made either by individual teachers or a collective initiative of the government, parents and teachers.
One such teacher who has shown exemplary efforts to change the tarnished image of government schools is Amarjit Singh Chahal from Punjab’s Mansa district.
Amarjit, who received the National Award on Teacher’s Day in 2019, is responsible for modernising four schools and increasing the enrollments of students. He has actively worked to ensure community participation where teachers, local panchayats and the parents have a sense of ownership towards the schools.
“Education is every child’s fundamental right and as a teacher, if I am unable to exercise that then I should not be in the profession. When I started, schools had limited resources and the plight of teaching was in tatters so I began my journey with my own investments. Seeing the progress, the local administration raised school budgets, parents donated money and we got generous donors from abroad. This interest and enthusiasm from various stakeholders is proof that with the right efforts, a change is possible,” Amarjit tells The Better India.
In the process of implementing his ‘Smart’ model in government schools (the primary schools at Ralli and Jeetsar Bachhoana and senior secondary schools at Boha and Ranghrial), Amarjit ended up investing Rs 2 lakh.
He also uses government grants and requests parents, who can donate from Rs 5 to Rs 10,000.
We also take help from NRIs who have been native to the district. Now that various stakeholders have invested, there is a sense of ownership from all of them. This is the key to making a project successful.”
Beginning of the Transformation
In 2007, Amarjit was unable to figure out why his students from Ralli school, who were in Class 5, found it difficult to understand the length of a whale. After a couple of tries, he took them outside the classroom and drew a whale on the school’s boundary wall.
When they finally got some clarity a few students asked how the whale would pass through a canal to which Amarjit did not have an answer.
“It was an eye-opening incident. I changed my teaching methods and taught in a more interactive manner. I went beyond classroom teaching and found fascinating facts or tales around topics. I also promoted a healthy classroom environment where students were encouraged to ask questions, and if I didn’t know the answer, I would use the internet to find it out for them. Seeing this, some students started doing this at home. They would take their parents’ phone and google educational content,” says Amarjit.
Next, he introduced DVD players and YouTube in classrooms to show science experiments, animal clips and so on to help them understand better.
During the school’s renovation work, he asked the painters to paint math symbols, syllabus, vocabulary, adjectives, synonyms of words on the building walls, “I saw kids loitering around in corridors if a teacher would be absent. Now, they would see quirky paintings of a math table on the wall and probably even learn it.” He also encouraged the students to draw on walls.
Besides, a computer lab, projector and U-shaped colourful benches also played an important role in raising student attendance and performance.
“The smart lab has a recorder where I have recorded chapters and my teachings. So, students can hear them whenever they want to and take notes. This improves their writing and listening skills,” adds Amarjit.
He also started an educational park inside the school premises where he made small installations like Bhakra Nangal Dam project explaining the process of water distribution.
He replicated a similar model in three other schools as well with some modifications. For example, in the primary school in Jeetsar Bachhoana he saw students struggling with their vocabulary and sentence formation. So, he specifically focussed on their weaknesses and once that improved, he made videos of them reading chapters and uploaded them on his Facebook timeline. Next day, he showed all the positive feedback that further motivated them and also made them confident.
The school enrollment in the school had increased from 43 to 120 by the time he transferred to another school in 2018.
Seeing the progress of his school, several district administrations reach out to Amarjit and take suggestions on improving their local schools. Amarjit, on his part, even visits other villagers and offers his help.
“I want this model to be replicated in as many schools as possible. A majority of the students in India cannot afford private education. But it is absolutely unfair to deny them a good education because of a lack of money or resources,” he mentions.
Teaching Methods in the Lockdown
Amarjit is currently posted at government senior school in Ranghrial village where he introduced a science park, math park and smart labs that resulted in 55 new students.
To help students with no internet or smartphones cope with lessons in the lockdown, Amarjit imparts education on the telephone. Every morning, he announces the day’s schedule on the speaker system of the local Gurudwara. He has also been instrumental in convincing the village panchayat and teachers to donate their old smartphones to the needy.
Praising Amarjit’s efforts, Sarpanch Jarnail Singh, who had organised a grand welcome party for him, after he returned from Delhi with his awards, says, “We have never seen a teacher as dedicated and committed as Amarjit. He has completely changed the face of education and showed us that a government school can be on par with a private one. The creative digitisation of classrooms with smart labs and projectors is giving our kids more exposure to the outside world.”
Edited by Gayatri Mishra