DRESSED in a white and red chequered kurta and a navy blue salwar, Sejal Patel, 13, sports a broad smile. As the first student president of the Nava Nadisar Prathamik Shala, a government school in the tribal village of Nava Nadisar in eastern Gujarat’s Panchmahal district, the class VIII pupil heads the student body tasked with improving the school’s functioning.
Since its inception in June this year, says schoolteacher Rakesh Patel, the student body has also helped in getting students more involved in the day-to-day running of the school, which primarily caters to tribal children.
For instance, before Chief Minister Vijay Rupani launched the Gyan Kunj project (involves replacing of books with tablets for school students) on September 5 (Teachers’ Day), the education department sent out a circular directing teachers to attend a three-hour training module on September 3, prior to the launch. The student body at Nava Nadisar Prathamik Shala decided that since the scheme was for students, they too would attend the training programme.
It is decisions like these, says Patel, that has seen the school, which has 285 students between classes I and VIII, ensure 100% enrolment and even elicit praise from then chief minister Narendra Modi, who made a mention of the school’s work in his 2010 Teachers’ Day speech.
In contrast, the district enrolment rate is 54.42% for primary school (classes I to V) and 50.17% for upper primary (VI to VIII).
“We realised that if we want students to listen to us, then we need to listen to them. For that giving them a platform and voice was essential. Thus, the idea of this student body came up as we believe that the best way children will follow rules is if they themselves come up with them,” says Patel. The government school, Patel adds, has ensured that parents participate in social events and actively track the development of their children.
More importantly, in the last ten years, the school has maintained a zero dropout rate, achieved by taking into account the village’s demography — Nava Nadisar has a population of nearly 1,000 people, the majority of whom are daily wagers who live in 150 houses scattered along the banks of the Mahisagar River. As a result, the school offers concessions, such as a flexible schedule for attendance; late-comers, even those who land up two hours after classes have begun, are allowed into the school.
“Villagers here are either migrants, farmers or labourers. Families have several children and the older ones take care of their younger siblings and do household chores as both parents may be working. If you start punishing students for coming late or even rebuke them in the class, they will never enter the classroom or even the school premises again,” says Patel, who began his teaching career here in 1998.
The result has been graduates such as Dinesh Mehra, 28, a member of the 2007-08 batch who is now a contractor here. “My parents were illiterate and tilled farms. We would have been doing it for generations more if not for this school and its dedicated team of teachers. If I had followed my ancestors, I would have been earning Rs 100 to Rs 150 a day. But now, I am capable of earning between Rs 25,000 and Rs 2 lakh a month,” says Mehra, whose six-year-old daughter is also a student of the Nava Nadisar Prathamik Shala.
Nilottamaben Patel, one of the only two women in the 10-member school faculty, says the institution has brought about another massive social change. “When I joined here in 2000, there was a strong divide along caste and community lines. Students would sit in groups, have their mid-day meals and play on the basis of their castes. But today there is no such thing. They are all friends with each other,” she says.