As one enters the remote village of Mhalwadi in Bhor taluka of Pune district, one comes across an unusual sight: images of the solar system, Maths tables, details about the human anatomy and other school lessons, splashed on the walls of houses, toilets and other buildings.
For Class IV student Shubham Bodke and his school friends, who have not had in-person classes for a long time, the walls have some of the lessons they have missed out on in the last one year.
“The walls have many things that the teachers taught us in schools. We have not been to the school in the last one year… I like the pictures painted on walls across the village, with lessons from my school curriculum…,” said Shubham.
Several walls in the village have been painted with images of the solar system, water cycle, mathematics tables, English and Marathi alphabets, list of states and their capitals, the family tree of Maratha king Shivaji and much more. These colourful painted walls are an attempt to ensure that basic knowledge of students remains intact even as Covid-related curbs continue to keep the school closed.
Mhalwadi village is located near the backwaters of Bhatghar dam, around 6 km from Bhor town. It has a population of around 1,200, with many residents working in Pune and Mumbai, as the villagers have lost their agricultural land during the construction of the dam. The village has a zilla parishad school with Classes I to VII, and 55 students, but the school has remained closed for over a year.
“The education of students was getting affected due to the lockdown. There were instructions to impart education online but the village has poor internet connectivity and limitations of mobile devices for students,” said Ganesh Borse, a teacher of the Mhalwadi ZP school.
There are three teachers in the school, he said. “We tried to impart education to students by visiting their homes or holding classes in open spaces, but could teach only two to three students at a time. It was not possible to reach out to all students…”, said Borse.
“We noticed that students were losing touch with school education due to closure of schools… and it was a cause of concern for us as there no clarity on how much time it would take for actual teaching in the classroom to begin. Thus, the school came up with the idea of painting walls across the village with study tables, charts and pictures.”
The issue was discussed with the sarpanch and other senior residents of the village. “All the villagers were worried about the education of students as schools were closed for a long time due to the pandemic. The teachers came up with the novel idea of painting walls of houses with lessons from the school curriculum and the villagers immediately agreed to implement it,” said sarpanch Dattatraya Bodke.
The financial expenditure for the initiative was borne by a youth from the village, living in Pune, who offered to finance the project.
“I studied in the village school. Now I am settled in Pune after graduating in telecommunication engineering, but my parents and brother still stay in the village. It was from them I got to know that the education of school students in the village has been badly hit due to school closure,” said Rajesh Bodke, who paid Rs 1.5 lakh to implement the initiative.
While schools in urban areas have been imparting education through online tools, poor internet connectivity in villages poses a problem for rural students. “Many villages do not have proper mobile connectivity and the number of mobile devices is limited. Parents going for work are unable to spare their devices for the studies of their children,” said Bodke, adding that there was a need to find an easy and effective way of imparting education in the present scenario for the rural poor.
The teachers, along with a few villagers, identified walls of houses and other structures in the village where the paintings could be made, at spots where they were easily visible and accessible for children.
“The walls of structures facing streets, lanes, and public places, which are mainly around the playing area of children, were selected. Around 85 walls have been painted so far with educational material as provided by school teachers. We will continue with the initiative and paint at least 25 more walls,” said Bodke.
The teachers referred to textbook material and information from the internet to decide on what should be painted. They tried to cover all subjects taught in schools, including Marathi, English, Science, Maths, History and Geography.
The initiative is not only providing lessons from the school curriculum to children but is also informative for village residents of all ages. “There are many schools in remote areas of the district and students of these schools are suffering due to closure of schools and no mobile connectivity. The initiative in Mhalwadi village is a novel idea to keep the students in touch with school education in remote villages,” said Ashwini Sonkamble, regional educational officer for Bhor tehsil.
This can be taken up in large scale in other villages as well, she said, adding that the gram panchayat of various villages in remote areas would be encouraged to implement the effort in their respective villages.