January 24, 2010 11:42:04 pm
When he was in Class X,Bir Singh Mandi of Saharjuri village in Purulia realised it was impossible to continue studying. He had to walk nearly 10 kilometres to reach school from his village,which was surrounded by forests on the Ayodhya hills in Purulia district. Hailing from a poor Santhal family,Mandi,like several of his friends,stayed at home to gather firewood and fruits from the forest. He missed his books,though.
So when the Mandra Lions Club (MLC),an organisation based out of Purulia,decided to start small pre-primary schools in Saharjuri and nearby villages,Mandi decided to volunteer as a teacher. He had for company 13 Santhals,including two women,who had themselves failed to complete school but have now volunteered to teach tribal children at the pre-primary schools. The 14 pre-schools with 342 students are spread across 14 villages in Baghmundi and Jhalda II blocks of Purulia district and hope to help children enter mainstream schools.
Only bicycles can venture into these villages and forests. Such is the condition of roads here. The state-run schools are also located far away from the villages, says Santosh Kumar Singha Deb,who supervises the education projects of the club.
Also,Mandi and his friends helped author books written in Alchiki script in the Santhali language. The tribal children,all between three and five years of age,dont speak Hindi and Bengali,the medium of instruction in mainstream schools. They speak the tribal language at home. Teachers in state-run schools teach in Bengali and children find that difficult, says Somnath Singha Roy,secretary of the club. Consequently,they found out,most of these children dropped out of school right at the primary level.
So before the local schools were set up,the club members spoke to the villagers. The villagers decided where they wanted these pre-schools, says Singha Roy.
The teachers,like Mandi,know both Bengali and Santhal,enough to initiate toddlers to the mainstream language through Santhali.
The schools operate five days a week from seven in the morning to around 10 a.m. After that,the teachers go back to sourcing firewood and fruits from the forest to sell them in the local markets.
While researching on books for the children,Singha Roy found out that the government too had come up with books in the tribal language. But for some reason,they werent introduced in schools in the tribal-majority areas.
Also,the government picture books have things that the Santhal children are not remotely familiar withships,aeroplanes…, says Roy.
The books that the club introduced have objects that tribal children are used to in their day-to-day liveshuts,trees,animals,musical instruments,fruits etc.
The Kothari Commission in 1966 had suggested that pre-primary education should be introduced in the mother tongue. We are trying to follow that model, says Singha Deb. As of now,the tribal teachers are planning to introduce mathematics books in a similar format.
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