Kotra, a tribal-rural block in the Udaipur district of Rajasthan, has a literacy rate of less than 27 per cent (Census 2011). But the Government Senior Secondary School (GSSS) in Mandawa here sprang a surprise as it bagged a spot in the list of the world’s top 100 schools. T4 Education, a global organisation that provides rankings in the field of education, had selected six schools from India.
The school authorities used the pandemic as an opportunity and were recognised globally for their best practices in improving the condition of the school.
“Government schools in India face a lot of challenges including irregularity of children’s attendance, their seating arrangement, proper sanitation and hygiene systems, provision for clean drinking water and old crumbling buildings. With the basic needs not being in place, there was nothing that was able to draw the children towards the school,” the principal of the school, Mohit Kumar, told indianexpress.com.
Kumar, who is also the Panchayat Elementry Education Officer (PEEO) of Mandawa, highlighted that girl students were dropping out of the secondary classes because there was no enclosed toilet. Till now, there was only a single toilet that everybody used and it did not even have a door or water supply.
“The school is disconnected from the city and is situated in the extreme rural area. Boys would just go in the adjacent fields and girls did not even have that option for obvious reasons. We decided it was high time for us to take the lead. With the help of the government composite grant along with funds collected from old and current teachers of the school, we got separate toilets constructed for girls and boys. They also have running water supply now, which has added to the hygiene,” Kumar said.
The schools in the region had reopened on October 15 with a cap of 50 per cent student capacity. “Of the total 370 students, 200 have been attending offline classes regularly. It indicates that the facilities and transformation of the school’s infrastructure have helped us curb the dropout issue. We are hopeful that from November 15 when schools will be able to function with 100 per cent capacity, students will be excited to come to school every day,” Kumar said.
The school also had an old kitchen room, which was not in a condition to be used as the ceiling could fall any minute. The principal and teachers decided to demolish that structure and clean up that space for open classes, where students could study despite the lack of classrooms.
Community support has been a major contribution to the journey of the school’s transformation. Along with monetary support, the locals helped the school with labour work, construction material, and paints amid the lockdown when the whole country was shut.
Community members who donate money or anything under the sun to the schools are fondly called ‘Bhamashahs’ in Rajasthan. Fifty-five-year-old Murari Lal Bhumariya, former pradhan of Kotra, had donated interlocking tiles worth Rs 50,000 for the school’s newly-built open classroom area. It was his “way of giving back to the school.”
“I had studied in the same school long ago in 1976. Kotra is still among the most backward regions in the country and only education can change the fate. Hence, my emotional connection with the school motivated me to do something for the betterment of the infrastructure. Schools in remote areas can improve only with community support,” he added.
The school like many others in such areas still faces several challenges. It currently functions for students of classes 1-12 with only 9 teachers. Some NGOs working in the area often provide academic support and guest teachers.
“Currently, a few youngsters from Kshamtalya Foundation have been helping us in keeping up with the syllabus. The school is an example of synergy between government, community and civil society,” Kumar added. He is hopeful that the school will improve further in the next few years and the students will achieve feats that seem unimaginable at the moment.