“You can’t change the world, but you can change someone’s world,” says Gias Sarkar, 52, running the one and only English-medium-school in the Dagaon village, Assam.
Sarkar’s father had started a school, wayback in 1957, under the aegis of his wife’s name. Keeping up with the family legacy, Sarkar has started a school by the name – A K High School Located at Dagaon, in the Nagaon district of Assam. “My school is very precious to me,” proudly states Sarkar.
In the classrooms, the routine wooden benches have been replaced with individual colourful folding study tables, supported by floor-seating on mats. The mundane monochromatic walls have given way to hundreds of colourful tiles on each wall and around the blackboard.
With colourful pictures and names of animals, plants, flowers, vegetables, fruits, numbers, human body parts and even freedom fighters on the white background of tiles, the walls seem to be like giant books. “The students of primary classes don’t have books as the teaching approach is interactive and innovative. Interactive games and toys are also there in these classrooms,” states Sarkar.
More than the little children, it was their parents who are more excited about the school. “I am an auto-rickshaw driver and always wanted my daughter Tanuja to have good education in an English-medium school. I am glad that our village has one. Otherwise from my meager earnings, I cannot afford to send her to a private school in cities,” says Ranjan Bora, a resident of Dagaon. “I have not studied in English-medium, but I want my children to go to such school,” says Khalid Hussain, a vegetable vendor.
Current status of rural education
Majority of India still live in its villages and so the topic of rural education is of utmost importance. Since the time of independence though the number of rural students is rising, but more than half of the students in fifth grade are unable to read a second grade textbook and are not able to solve simple mathematical problems. Quality of education has always been compromised.
Why didn’t more English-based schools come up in the Dagaon village? What has been the success story behind this school?
Sarkar explains quality and access to education is the major concern in rural schools as there are fewer committed teachers, lack of proper textbooks and learning material in the schools.
“Though government schools exist, but when compared to private schools the quality is a major issue. Majority of people living in villages have understood the importance of education and know that it is the only way to get rid of poverty. But due to lack of money they are not able to send their children to private schools in the cities and hence depend upon government schools for education,” says Sarkar.
“Our school till date has never compromised with the quality of education. Apart from regular academics our focus has also been on soft skills development,” adds Sarkar.
“Education and textbooks should be made interesting. For rural students textbooks related to their culture, traditions and values should also be there so as to create their interest in studies. The reasons behind so many drop-outs in spite of free education should be found out as this is a hurdle on the road to progress. Improvement in the condition of government schools, education quality, committed teachers and more salaries to these teachers should be part of development,” explains Saiful Islam, Principal of the school.
According to some government schools statistics in rural India, they are overly packed with students, leading to a distorted teacher-student ratio. In one such remote village in Arunachal Pradesh, there are more than 300 students in class X which makes nearly 100 students in each classroom. In such a situation, it is impossible for teachers to pay full attention towards each and every student, even if they are willing to help.
Although India is amongst the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, it still has a third of the world’s illiterates. According to global education report of 2014, India’s ranking was 106 out of 127 countries in the education sphere.
The school was officially registered in 2006. There were seven teachers when the school started. Today is has 36 teaching staff and seven non-teaching staff with 740 students.
Every village is not provided with school which means that students have to go to another village to get education. Moreover, many parents usually do not prefer sending their daughters to school, leading to a failure in achieving rural education in India.
The school has changed the lives of many children, families and even the staff working there. One among them is Anupam Goswami, who has been part of the school since six decades. “I was 12 when I joined the school as an assistant to principal and teachers,” he says. Today, he is known to be the key-man of the school. He handles the entire school security services.
Apart from the regular classroom teaching, the students are taken out for village and city tour training. “This helps to build the confidence level of students and understand the subject more clearly,” says Mridul Kakoti, a teacher.
The students are also encouraged to participate in different sports, art and culture activities. A huge playground is spread over 1 km. Students go out in open air to make their projects. “We usually conduct our art, craft and science class in playground under trees. This helps students to think creatively and add innovation to their thought. They never get distracted,” says Mehdi Ikbal Khan , an art teacher and even a psychologist.
The school even has a library having more than 3,000 books. “We are trying to add more books to our library, possibly in next few months,” says Sarkar.
Many students have even represented their school in state level games which include cricket, badminton, running and long jump.
For many people, school in village is an essential part of its very existence, no matter how many students take admissions there. A member of the school puts the sentiment of the entire village in nutshell, “A village is no village without a school.”
The school shortly plans to open classes for higher secondary course in its premises. “We are planning to open classes for XI and XII. May be next year our school will be ready with this facility where students can get good quality higher secondary education in this small village,” says Sariful Islam the school Rector.
There are many examples of success in rural education. It is the time to replicate such efforts. Let’s try to build a solution around these problems which will resolve the overall issues of rural education in India.