Dev Kotak | Oct 8, 2021 | 7 min read
A teacher couple in a zila parishad primary school in Maharashtra’s Nashik has changed the face of education in their village, inadvertently addressing water and power shortages and the challenges thrown up by the pandemic.
Mumbai: Sampat Kokane and Savita Adhav, armed with 16 and 12 years of teaching experience respectively, dreamt of having an ideal education system in their village of Jambhulwadi in the Adgaon block. They embarked on their journey with a student strength of 50, aiming to provide not just knowledge but other crucial life skills to their students.
But how do you create an environment conducive for learning in a village with little access to water and electricity, and when a global pandemic has barred gatherings?
The teacher couple, in their efforts towards running the ideal school, ended up bringing the village community together with an NGO to implement a rural development plan to light up houses and provide access to water, realising bringing and keeping kids in school demanded a more holistic and integrated development of their surroundings.
“Something that started as an effort towards better education resulted in the provision of water and electricity in the village,” said Pratibha Pai, founder-director of Project Chirag, crediting Kokane for convincing her team that Jambhulwadi village needed development through solar-lighting and solar-based water lift irrigation.
Village development plan
Kokane and Adhav’s journey was far from easy, but they were helped along the way by villagers who saw how invested the couple were in rebuilding the school, and the pains they were taking to educate their students.
The main problem the teachers faced was poor attendance or dropout by students which was a result of the larger issues plaguing the village such as water and electricity shortages.
During their interactions with the students at school, the couple got to know what kind of homes they came from, their problems, family life and lifestyle. For instance, they learnt that women in the village households had to go far to fetch water and their absence from home was impacting the attendance of children at school. With the mothers away filling water pitchers, the teachers noticed that many children were either not turning up for class or coming to study on an empty stomach.
“During the monsoon, mothers or other female members of a household go to the water source earlier in the day to fill their pots. During this time, the school-going kids get late for classes. Many would come without eating breakfast, and would later run away home for food and not return. But the mid-day meal has helped in this,” Adhav shared.
The teachers shared a vision to transform the school and the quality of education being imparted (Picture credit - Dev Kotak)
The teachers’ observation was corroborated by Pai, who said that when her project team conducted an assessment of Jambhulwadi, they were shocked to find that the hamlet’s most basic needs were not being met.
Pai said, “There was irregular electricity in homes and school, a major scarcity of pure drinking water, the school was in need of repairs and above all, livelihood options were as good as zero as the men of the village migrated to nearby cities and towns for work. With 85 houses and a population of 550, Jambhulwadi would drop into complete darkness during the monsoons.”
She added, “Sampat Kokane approached us asking for installation of solar lighting in the school at a time when the entire village was in darkness.”
Project Chirag, which also specialises in rural electrification, had carried out an Integrated Village Development project in the Adgaon main village in January 2020, which resulted in zero migration of villagers to other areas. Seeing the success of the project, nearby hamlets came forward to request similar support. In Jambhulwadi, the demand was led by the teacher couple who had been battling the problem of migrating parents pulling their kids out of school.
As Project Chirag got to work in Jambhulwadi, what followed was solar electrification at the home and school level, solar-powered water lifts to make water available both for drinking and domestic use, as well as initiatives to promote agriculture, filtration of drinking water and community education.
The locals too pitched in the development work by contributing small sums of money to ramp up facilities.
Another key focus of Kokane and Adhav, who have taught in the village for several years now, was to create a positive study environment for students, even at their homes. This involved counselling parents to not migrate from the village to the grape farms in nearby Nashik for work.
“We have counselled parents that moving children out of school will affect their education. Their mindset is now changing and many parents have started leaving their kids behind with their grandparents in the village,” said Adhav.
School with a difference
According to Kokane, he and his wife always yearned to go beyond normal curriculum-based teaching. “It is important for children to learn other life skills and become smart. Teaching children what is going on outside the classroom is the need of the hour. The vision was to transform the school and the quality of education being imparted,” he explained, giving the example of a village school having its own garden or even a compost plant on the premises, that “really helps children learn about the environment”.
They began implementing innovative methods of teaching in 2018. “We had envisioned what an ideal school should be like, and then we created our own model. We also saw a lot of YouTube videos to get inspiration. The main idea was to maintain student interest through unique ways of study,” said Adhav.
The 'maths hut' and 'language hut' provide distraction-free lessons to students (Picture credit - Dev Kotak)
Their unique method of teaching consisted of training the kids in problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and bonding and team-building activities – all of which would contribute to their holistic development into fine individuals.
Another innovation was the setting up of Ganit kutti (maths hut) and Bhasha Vachan kutti (hut for learning the Marathi language) on the school campus for children to go to when distracted in class.
Sampat explained, “My wife and I worked tirelessly to change the way the school looks and the kind of learning it offers. We introduced more programmes, converted the school into a digital one and changed teaching methods to suit the needs of students. Because of various interventions, children were encouraged to attend classes regularly.”
Winning the trust of parents
Even covid could not distract the teacher couple from their goal. At the height of the pandemic, they decided that classes (education) must go on, and set to work converting an area used for village gatherings into a shed to conduct open-air classes.
Said a parent and resident of the hamlet, “They [teachers] hold regular meetings for parents every month. Even during covid, they did not allow studies to get affected. They taught in community halls and open spaces and used masks and sanitisers, ensuring the full safety of our children. We trust them, hence we send our kids every day to their school, knowing they will be taken care of.”
The parent revealed that the school is so popular for its unique teaching that people have moved their children to Jambhulwadi only because of the education there. “They come from distances as far away as 40 km, so you can imagine the quality of education imparted at this school.
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