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Unsung heroes, untold stories

by S.Giridhar, Head - Advocacy and Research

The Government Lower Primary School in Vaddarahatti has a single room housing all 5 classes; no toilets; no play ground; no compound wall. Yet, children here are happy and have mastered concepts and fundamentals prescribed for their age. S GIRIDHAR investigates

It is just mid February but already in North East Karnataka the sun blazes down fiercely and the earth has a glistening baked look to it. National Highway 13 from Hospet snakes through all the way to Chitradurga. About 44 kms before Chitradurga, still inside Kudligi Taluka in Bellary District, one must look real sharp so that one does not miss the small road that takes us into Alluru village.
Vaddarahatti hamlet is an even smaller habitation that adjoins the larger village of Alluru.

Vaddarahatti has a population of about 200 people, almost entirely made up of the scheduled caste. There are 45 children in this habitation in the age group of six to eleven and each of them is in school.

Government Lower Primary School, Vaddarahatti has qualified as an A category winner in the Learning Guarantee Programme, a joint initiative of Azim Premji Foundation and Government of Karnataka. Out of the 896 schools that opted for evaluation in 2003 under the programme, this school was one among 12 A category winners. In order to qualify as an A category school, the independent evaluation of school must show that: (i) All children in the 6 to 11 age group in the habitation are enrolled in the school (ii) At least 90% of the children attend school regularly and (iii) 80% or more of the enrolled children demonstrate the expected competencies pertaining to the grade. Vaddarahatti beat these criteria by a fair margin. 100% enrollment, 95% attendance and over 84% of the children had demonstrated complete mastery over their Math and Kannada for their age and grade.

When I walked into Vaddarahatti School, the Head Teacher welcomed me with proprietary pride. Lingappa is 33 years old, a graduate with Teacher training, a tall swarthy member of the local community who has set himself up as a role model for all children. He has been with the school since 1997 when it first started with a handful of children. Today it has 45 children. Till last year, this school operated out of a single room where all 45 children from Class 1 to Class 5 would all at the same time be engaged by Lingappa and his colleague, Hanumantha Reddy. Reddy is obviously a team man and complements the immense energy and motivational levels of Lingappa with his own supportive determination. Here is a situation of acute infrastructural levels: a single room housing all 5 classes; no toilets; no play ground; no compound wall. A young child if careless could fall steeply to the road if she rushes out of the class room.

So what is the magic? Lingappa smiles broadly and says: “I come in at 8:30 am and I stay as late as I want to. I live here and this is my home. But the beauty is that the children start coming in even before I arrive although school is only at 10 am. Unlike many other habitations, I do not have to go round the village to round up the children and push them to school.”

What about the parents? “80% of the parents are illiterate. Most of them are agricultural labourers who earn just Rs. 10 per day during lean times and about Rs. 80 per day during the peak ground nut season. But each and every one of them willingly sends his or her child to school and does not mind if the child comes early to school or goes back home later than closing hours. For me, that is the biggest support any community can provide.”

The President of the School Development Monitoring Committee is illiterate and a daily wage worker but is involved and supportive. Farmer Thimma Reddy, whose child is in Class II is a very active member of the school committee and was present at the school when we dropped in without notice.

OK, but how did you ensure your children did so well in the oral and written tests that the evaluation team conducted? This time Hanumantha Reddy, the other teacher answers calmly: “Thanks to the Programme’s prospectus which contained a detailed list of the competencies that each child was expected to acquire in Class 1, 2, 3 or 4, we were able to prepare and practice sufficiently. Both of us used up every bit of space (the bottom two feet of the four walls are used as black writing boards) writing out a lot of questions for the children to practice and answer.”

But is that not merely a kind of tuition with a short term goal? A provocative question! Lingappa answers with absolute conviction; his complete self belief and leadership is evident: “Even if you had come and evaluated the children in surprise tests they would have done well. And let me tell you why. We involve every child every day in the class. We make each child read and write. We pay individual attention to every child. All my children must qualify for the Navodaya School when they leave from here. That is possible only if we enable them to acquire strong fundamentals and concepts.”

Now Hanumantha Reddy adds: “We do a lot of group work. In a single room if we both have to actively engage all 45 children in varying classes it is possible only when we do this kind of group work and encourage peer learning. Despite all this there are a few children who are slow learners and for these children we do an extra hour of coaching from 4.30 PM. But all the other children also stay back. This means that Lingappa and I have to give a different assignment to the other children while we attend to the slow learning children.”

While the two teachers are talking to us, the children are in the class room and except a couple of very young children who are staring vacantly at the roof, the rest are either discussing something or reading from their books.

I could not resist doing an exercise that I often try with children to understand whether they have mastered the decimal concept. Most of the times when I ask children from class 5 or 6 to add 0.1, ten times I get answers that are as wide as 10 or 0! Here, Sridhar, Class 5, did this with contemptuous ease. Rekha, Class 4 and Pavitra, Class 3 jumped up to add four digit numbers with carry forward concepts and did it with sure footedness. Neither tried to break speed limits but merely demonstrated how well they had internalised a concept. When I asked them about what they wanted to become, Sridhar pointed to Lingappa and said I want to become a teacher while the two girls said Doctor in chorus.

The children are quite free and easy and there is no stuffy discipline that tends to shackle children. Instead, Lingappa always cheerful, smiling and completely in control treats his children with the lightest and surest of hands.

The school has just got a new building with two rooms and verandah and the toilets are almost completed. Lingappa wants to use some of the Learning Guarantee Programme Award amount to put a grill around the school to prevent children from falling down into the gutter and hurting themselves. He also wants to start a library. I am sure he has ambitious plans because he feels his school will win the award next year too.

As we leave Vaddarahatti, Lingappa tells me with a mischievous smile: “You must also visit the nearby Alluru Middle school and ask them how the children from Vaddarahatti School are performing. Many of our children go there from Class 6 onwards and perform very well.”

So, here then is a school in the back of beyond, a small hamlet of agricultural labour, economic backwardness, where most of the parents are illiterate, a single room school with two teachers handling five classes, producing outstanding quality of teaching learning, with solid proof that each of the children from this primary school also goes on to complete middle school. Missionary zeal, clarity of purpose, sound concepts on teaching learning processes and a genuine concern that their children must acquire good education.

This article appeared in Deccan Herald, issue dated February 26, 2004