These fresh and colourful learning spaces are a far cry from the normal picture associated with government schools – of dull uniforms and duller classrooms, where children are bored and teachers often absent. And one young team made this possible.
In the corridor outside of a government school in Nagpur, primary school kids are having a great time. They are writing and drawing freely on the walls and no one is trying to stop them.
The best part is that no one needs to stop them either – the walls are meant for them to have as much fun as they want and also to learn in the process.
Thanks to Maitreyi Jichkar, a 25-year-old resident of Nagpur, this fun sight can soon be a common scenario in many government schools in and around the city.
Armed with paints, brushes, masks, and lots of exciting ideas, she and her team of young volunteers from across the city are seen working at different schools, giving them a thorough, and sometimes even structural, makeover – not just a surface one.
This is transforming them from drab buildings into interactive learning environments.
“If you visit some government schools in India, you will realise that while they do provide basic amenities…they do not have an environment that can motivate students or instil in them the willingness to learn. Many buildings are in a very shabby state and the environment is very saddening – both in rural as well as urban India. Some schools have buildings that have not even been painted since the past 20 years,” says Maitreyi, a commerce graduate, who is currently completing her PhD in educational administration.
Maitreyi is the founder of the Dr. Shrikant Jichkar Foundation, a non-profit that works in various sectors like healthcare, education, sustainable employment, and environmental awareness. Started in the memory of her father, the NGO’s mission is simple – to take up a cause in one of these areas, craft a well suited solution and implement it for small, yet meaningful impact. “My father always used to say that life is about giving maximum happiness to the maximum number of people,” she says.
The Foundation has a 400-member strong youth volunteer network called ‘Zero Gravity,’ and it is with this team that Maitreyi began researching the disturbing conditions of government schools and how they could be changed.
She came across a concept called Building as a Learning Aid (BALA), which was developed by an architect named Kabir Vajpeyi in 2002.
This concept is all about using physical space as a tool for child development, that is, transforming school buildings in such a way that they enhance visual learning among children and also enhance the overall teaching process.
Maitreyi decided to use BALA as a starting point for her ‘Happy School’ project; she sat down with her team, talked to the architects in her volunteer base, studied the whole concept, thought of how they could build upon it and innovate, and finally approached the first government school.
The school authorities were hesitant initially. But with some discussion, they understood and accepted the idea. They agreed to bear the cost of paint from their maintenance fund, while Maitreyi and her team took on the responsibility for the remaining costs.
And so they began.
With about 50 volunteers working every weekend, the school got a complete makeover in just three months.
To begin with, the building was whitewashed and the classrooms were painted.
Some elements of the school building like steps, doors, windows, and walls were modified in a way that they would attract kids to adapt to this 3D creative learning process in place of the two dimensional blackboard education approach.
Even open spaces like the corridors and fields were worked upon.
For example, the floor became a place for the students to understand fractions with the help of painted numbers and figures, the windows became a surface where kids could practice writing Hindi alphabets, and the corridor was carefully designed to help children estimate distances.
Volunteers also studied the curriculum of different classes so they could implement related images and structures in the classrooms.
“We also involved students in the process. This way they take ownership of their school buildings,” says Maitreyi.
Some of the different ways in which these design changes in the buildings can help children are:
• Language and Communication skills: Corridor walls that are painted to look similar to a four-line register help children practise cursive writing. Vowels, examples from their phonetics lessons, and syllables are also painted on the walls.
• Maths Skills: Maths tables are painted on the school pillars, which help primary school children learn visually.
• IQ: Illusions, exercises for finding the differences between two images, and crossword puzzles are also painted in the classrooms and on the buildings.
The impact of the makeover of this one government school on both teaching and learning outcomes was so great that Maitreyi and her Zero Gravity team were approached by 26 government schools from in and around Nagpur, asking them to come to their schools as well.
Maitreyi is now working on helping communities come together and implement the idea on their own:
“It is not possible for us to go to every school and do it because we operate on a completely voluntary basis. But this framework is open to the community. We are also creating a tool kit to help schools take up the project.”
The complete makeover of one school costs about Rs. 60,000, and the Foundation arranges for the money through fundraisers.
“We also have to put in money from our own pocket at times. We do so when needed. But our experience with the second school we worked on was overwhelming. The teachers and principal got together and pitched in as much as they could to fund the project,” says Maitreyi.
Zero Gravity is also working on other projects – Project Happiness where they work with shelter homes in the city and Project Earth where they take up environment-friendly activities. Most of the volunteers are students and some are working professionals.