“MAAF KARA, jagah bharlya aahe (We are sorry, we are full this year). We’ll try and admit your child next year,” headmaster Narayan Garde politely tells a parent who has come to enroll her child at the Nawli zilla parishad school in Risod taluka of Maharashtra’s Washim district. This, Garde says, is a new problem for the school. Until last year, he says, they were struggling to keep the school open. In June 2016, the school, with classes from 1 to 8, had four teachers for its 145 students and there were fears that many would drop out.
Zilla parishad-run schools across Maharashtra have been grappling with an increasing student dropout rate. According to the state government’s data for 2016, the number of students enrolled in zilla parishad schools and those run by local bodies dropped by 16.4 lakh since 2009-10. “Every year, over 2 lakh students leave schools run by the zilla parishad and government, and opt for private and English-medium schools,” says Nand Kumar, principal secretary, school education and sports. The Nawli school was a part of that statistic.
That’s when Garde, 33, and four other teachers, decided to take matters in their hand. Today, the school has over 415 students and has “admissions full”. Nawli is a village of around 2,000 residents, most of them farmers who grow soya bean and toor dal. The village has only one school — the Nawli zilla parishad school. Until the last academic year, most children from the village travelled up to 30 km to attend a school in Risod town because the Nawli school “wasn’t good enough”. Read | International curriculum in 25 BMC schools, click here
“Our school neither had teachers nor proper infrastructure, hence those who could afford it sent their children elsewhere. But we realised it was important for the school in our village to stay open because we were spending a lot on private education and it’s not always possible to send children elsewhere. That’s when we decided to do something,” says Jaisingh Baagad, a Nawli resident whose son studies at Bhavana Public school in Risod.
In May 2016, following a protest by villagers at the district office, the education department appointed five teachers — headmaster Garde, Subhash Sadar (52), Krishna Pallod (33), Rahul Sakharekar (31) and Gajanan Jadhav (36). With just four classrooms for eight classes, these teachers had to simultaneously hold two classes in each classroom. But from then on, the teachers took charge. Sakharekar, who teaches maths, says, “All we knew was that once the number of students increases, the school would never shut down. So we began working towards that.”
The teachers began by pooling in money — they collected Rs 1.5 lakh — and fixing the run-down infrastructure. “We used the money to paint walls and install water purifiers. Later, we decided we had to re-look what we taught and look beyond the curriculum. For that, we needed more funds. So we approached the village elders,” says Sakharekar, who lives in Risod.
The villagers contributed Rs 3 lakh and then, there was no looking back. The school with four classrooms and no working toilets once, is now a colourful, green campus with seven classrooms, a computer lab, toilets and a steady supply of drinking water. “The teachers brought the school back to life. Children are happy to go there because they have a lot of extra-curricular activities. Nobody thought of all this before,” says Khushaal Baajad, whose child studies in Class 7 at the school.
Congress leader and legislator Amit Zhanak, who contributed Rs 1.5 lakh from the MLA fund, says, “I appreciate the work done by the teachers but I would also credit this success to the residents of Nawli village. They protested to save the school. They understand the value of education. They have done something the state government should have done.”
According to principal secretary Kumar, the government’s ‘Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’, a programme to provide better infrastructure and trained teachers, was responsible for 14,000 students returning to zilla parishad schools last year. Read | Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra: Competency tests for Classes VI-VIII, click here
The Nawli school, meanwhile, brought in more changes. “Ours is a Marathi-medium school but we have started spoken-English classes. Also, students are trained for competitive exams, such as UPSC and MPSC. Every month, we conduct a special general knowledge test. We have also introduced an e-learning system,” says headmaster Garde.
These days, the school gates stay open much after the last bell at 5.30 pm. Between 7 pm and 9 pm, the villagers observe “no-TV hours”, during which children go to school with their parents and revise chapters taught during the day.
The innovations have not only helped the school retain its students, but also attracted children from 10 other villages from Risod, Malegaon, Dongaon and Mehkar. “Nearly 40 students who had joined an English-medium school in Risod joined our school. We have now stopped admissions because if we have to take in more students, we need more classrooms and teachers.”
Washim district collector Rahul Dwivedi says, “The team of teachers and villagers have established a model that other villages and towns can follow.” The school has now approached the district education department, seeking more teachers. But not before notching up another first, this year — a new kindergarten section.