History tells us that brilliance, achievement, innovation, and excellence are never the exclusive domain of either cities or villages. This heartwarming story of a school in the deep interiors of West Bengal is a story of hope for education, and how it turned into a transformative force.
In a barren tribal belt of a district of West Medinipur, West Bengal, as you walk along a narrow kachcha lane in the village Andharisole, you reach what looks like a picture-perfect school from children’s drawings. It is clean and properly fenced, with pictures on the wall, a kitchen garden, flowers, and properly dressed kids. The school boasts of 100% enrollment from Scheduled Tribe kids, some of them first-generation learners.
But it wasn’t always like this. Established in 1979, a School Inspector (SI) recently visited this 36-year-old school for the first time, which now stands transformed as a model school for many surrounding communities.
It’s a beautiful example of how long-lasting changes can be brought about using material collected from city schools for their rural counterparts.
“Material support is necessary to secure student participation & community involvement,” shares Harish Chandra Bera, Head Teacher of this government Primary School. He should know, since he has played a critical role in the gradual process of behavioural change in this school with material as motivation under Goonj’s School to School (S2S) initiative.
School to school (S2S) is about addressing the educational needs of thousands of schools and Anganwadis in remote and resource-starved village/slums by channelizing under-utilized school material from affluent city schools in a dignified and impactful way.
S2S is a cost-effective and easily replicable concept which also emphasizes making city students more aware and empathetic about the lives of their rural counterparts.
The scheme uses school material from urban schools in village schools, as a tool, as motivation, for behavior change on key parameters like hygiene, attendance, learning, etc. This philosophy was implemented at Andharisole primary school as well. The process started by establishing a proper library in the school, with the responsibility to maintain it given to the school. When this met with success, a computer was provided to the school. It was the first computer not only in the school, but in the entire area. The initiative’s workers arranged an exposure visit for the School Head Teacher to some of the best Kolkata schools.
As a result, some important changes started in this school around inculcating basic habits among the students. The students were slowly involved in the day-to-day activities of school maintenance and cleanliness.
As the students, school, and local community showed tremendous changes, the S2S initiative provided support for school and other material.
Today, the school has a student council of its own, consisting of a Prime Minister and other ministers who look after food, health & sanitation, sports, cultural activities, and other aspects. On the school’s 36th anniversary, it opened a community resource centre where students from outside the village come and learn. This change affected the local community as well, motivating and involving people in clearing up the path to the village. The villagers used the cut down bushes to build a boundary fence for the school.
People also made the school kitchen garden (providing nutrition for 36 students) in return for family kits. As a result, the community’s interest and involvement in the children’s studies and parent-teaching meetings increased. The Gram Pradhan promised to include the school’s bamboo fencing in MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme). Recently (April 2015), they fulfilled the promise by completing a brick boundary wall from the Panchayat funds. That’s the result of mobilizing the community!
Now, the school can use the money allotted under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for its maintenance for other urgent matters.
Child development specialists say that the environment a child gets in their early years leaves a lasting impact. The primary school in Andharisole is giving its students something we all want our children to learn in their schools. Dedicated teachers like Harish Chandra Vehra make a big difference in the quality of learning for their students. Material facilitated the behavioral change in the students while the students took the initiative to change their own learning experience.
While gaps in village schools are obvious, highlighting this makes urban children more responsible, sensitized, and aware citizens.
In the last many years the S2S initiative has engaged children from over 200 city schools across India. They learned some important life lessons about compassion, the joy of giving, saving our environment, and taking action for change.
Children at both ends thus become the true champions of S2S.
It’s this ongoing participation which makes the impact in many schools like Andharisole possible. The idea is simple – when children in cities become more sensitive, they too can play a positive role. With simple ideas they will grow to realize the value of things that they take for granted.