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Primary Concern

by S.Giridhar, Head - Advocacy and Research

Community participation at the village level can go a long way in making universalisation of elementary education a reality. S Giridhar cites some success stories in Karnataka

Universalisation of elementary education simply put is “Every Child in School and every child learning”. Universalisation of elementary education in the rural context can be given a great fillip with the active involvement of every member of the village community such as the parents, teachers, children, village leaders, elders and the youth.

We were a part of the team that visited the villages of Banniganur, Jangamerhatti and Sultanpur in Sindhanoor taluk of Raichur district to research factors pertaining to effective communication. Fresh from a truly exhilarating visit, our team compares notes with colleagues who have come back from villages such as Bylpara, Joida, Sambrani, and Haliyal in Uttara Kannada. They too have inspiring stories to narrate. If we add the observations of our earlier visit to 11 hamlets in the Aland and Afzalpur taluks of Gulbarga district, we have a montage of stories to tell about how communities can take charge of their destiny. 

Put aside statistics (30 per cent of our children who enroll in Class 1 do not cross middle school. Only a mere 16 per cent finally make it past class 10). This is a story not about clouds but of the silver linings. Of a few old men and women bent by age; a few young men and women straight and strong from hard labour. Hope, faith, passion and most importantly action is common to all of them. These are the heroes of villages Badiganur, Chowdapur, Chinnamalli and Bylpara who in their own way are contributing towards elementary education in rural India

It is 6 pm in Banniganur, a village in Sindhanoor Taluk, midway between Raichur and Bellary. Dusk is setting in but there is still light for a 19- year- old to gather 12 young children of his village in the small courtyard of his house and begin his session of voluntary free evening tuitions. This is like a true multi-level, multi grade Patashala. Children- the latecomers- scramble for ring side seats in the already full courtyard, trying to get as close to him as possible. He is teaching them, unaware of us. There is joyful learning going on here! Framing the dark doorway of this house, the youth’s parents look on proudly. We unobtrusively click a few photographs and move on. It is twilight now, we have 3 miles to walk through the fields to catch a bus but we walk in total silence, savouring what we had just seen: an idealist’s zeal to supplement the education of the kids in his village. There is an inner serenity and calmness in us that comes with hope and happiness.

It is early morning in Chowdapur, a grim village about 20 miles from Gulbarga. Grim, because the terrain is harsh, they subsist on fishing in a small rivulet that often goes dry and desperately migrate in search of work. We enter a school that is kept spotlessly clean: The courtyard, the single tree, the flag pole, the class rooms and neatly whitewashed walls. Chinnara Angala (the summer bridge school programme for out of school children by the Government of Karnataka) is on for a group of about 25 children. There normally is a teacher and one volunteer to run this bridge school but we saw not two but four teachers. One of them is rather elderly. He is a teacher in a school in a nearby village. He is close to retirement age, but cannot sit quiet. Moreover this is his village. So, he rustles up children from their homes to minimise absentees and joins the official teachers in helping run the bridge school. We ask him to tell us more. He says that many of his students in primary school have gone on to become teachers. This old school teacher in dhoti and Gandhi cap, relentlessly pursues his dream of a fully educated Chowdapur. Chowdapur is blessed despite its economic difficulties.

Here is something interesting from Chinnamalli village. There is just one bus to this village in the forenoon and then a bus in the evening that takes you back. Bheema River runs through it, thus sparing the farmers the ravages of truant monsoons. They have a primary school run by a totally committed Head mistress and 2 teachers. The school is very small but well maintained. They have a supportive Chairman of the School Development Monitoring Committee. They have their records and papers up-to-date. They encourage a lot of singing and dancing in their teaching. We are about to leave when a 11-year old boy begins to sing. Natural, untrained, full throated, joyous, from the heart. The other children join in.

Bylpara is a lonely village around five kilometres from Dandeli.The school at the village is at the gateway to the forest range. It is a picture post card haven. There is a light drizzle and a cool breeze. Our team is here at the school as it has been short listed by the Government of Karnataka as a possible candidate for the Computer based Community Learning Centre. The 34 centres started over a year ago and run by the Azim Premji Foundation are showing encouraging results and the Government has decided to add 55 more village schools across 11 districts. It is an accepted fact that if there is an expressed need and an evident benefit to the community, they should sustain its running costs after the initial period of handholding. One of the criteria for selection as a Community Learning Centre (CLC) will thus be the ability of the community to sustain the centre with community funds. Will Bylpara pass this test? The Headmaster and Chairman of the school committee are sceptical about the community’s commitment or enthusiasm to participate. Prema from our team explains to the community that the CLC could be maintained by them even with very small contributions from the parents of the school children. Will they sacrifice something from their cigarette/beedi/tea expenses for this?

Then a man shuffles around and extracts a crumpled twenty rupee note from his shirt. Walking up to Prema in our team, he repeatedly urges her, “take down my son’s name.” She has to convince him that he was not expected to contribute now but only later when the School committee chairman actually called for contributions. The community now surges forward. Bylpara has passed one of the tests. These are also rough times for Bylpara. The plywood factory has been closed for a year now. The parents have to go far for work. Whether the school is finally chosen is not the ending to this story. What Prema and crew came back with was a huge recharge of faith and belief that parents even in the most difficult situations would sacrifice to get their children educated.

There is much-- in fact too much-- to be done especially in the quality of learning which remains poor but let us accept the existence of community nobility and community power. All children in School, all children learning…..sounds very possible.

This article appeared in Deccan Herald, issue dated August 30, 2002