Innovations and dedication mark this year’s list of National Awards for teachers
By Ashok K Pandey
Guess what? A staggering 1.5 million schools, 10 million teachers and 300 million children describe the vital statistics of India’s schools. We hear about poor learning outcomes and scary levels of dropouts; inaccessibility and lack of accountability. There is a lot of inspiring initiatives that do not get enough public attention.
The central and state governments have endeavoured to set up schools located at high altitudes, in the cyclone-prone coastal areas. Children are walking to schools situated in the harsh terrains of Ladakh, and to the ones in security-challenged forests covering several states. There are schools with less than 10 students. In one school, the first child admitted in Grade 1 waited for two years to get her first classmate.
There is a school in West Bengal for the children of Hindi-speaking migrant workers. Jharkhand has a school for Odia-speaking population. To preserve the tribal culture and tradition of the Toto community, the West Bengal government provides schooling even in remote tribal areas. The Rajasthan government has set up CBSE affiliated schools of excellence. There are schools that educate the children, as also save them from abduction and trafficking. There is a reason to believe that governments have shown conviction and the community has supported the cause of education. Funds have been made available by the government and through donations. What lacks attention and coverage are the stories of highly committed men and women taking the entire mantle upon themselves. Their stories are courageous in the face of adversities.
What have these classroom icons accomplished? They are using school buildings as learning aids and making sure of the provision for clean drinking water. Energy-saving, sanitation, herbal gardening, erecting a wall for creativity, computerisation, video presentation and community involvement come across as shining examples of their pioneering efforts. It is heartening to note that without any inhibition, these teachers approach the potential donors to invite help. Many of these teachers chip in their savings, too. One headteacher confessed, “I can beg anyone for anything that helps my students learn more—I am a beggar, not a boss.”
Another young teacher turns a driver in the morning and afternoon to drive the cab donated by an alumnus. In between, he teaches the students maths and science. Enrolment in schools has gone up. A unique story comes from a former constable of the Karnataka police turned teacher who is teaching plumbing and painting skills. A teacher from Nagaland is transferring his talent in art. A bright young man from Uttarakhand quit his professorship in a Scandinavian country to take up a teaching position in a village school. That could serve as an inspiration for college graduates shying away from taking school teaching as a preferred career.
These teachers are creating sustainable learning spaces and nurturing a million aspirations. It comes out unequivocally that “giving” and “giving generously” is the first principle of making a difference. One teacher narrated her story of how the “blackboard” exposure is saving children from falling prey to “red board,” alluding to possible radicalisation of children. The second principle is self-learning. No wonder, all of them are using technology to learn and teach. The third principle is fostering innovation, improvising resources drawn from the local context. To reduce the load of the school bag, one school has prepared a single book for all subjects in each quarter.
On September 5, the grateful nation and the President will accord the National Award to Teachers to 50 of these change-makers. These stories are reminders of the challenges we face and, at the same time, give us solace that it is humanly possible to make a change.
The author is an educationist, and director, Ahlcon Group of Schools, Delhi