by Ritika Potnis
“As more and more pebbles filled the jug, the water level kept rising. Soon, it was high enough for the crow to drink. His plan had worked!”
Read out Ashwini, a 6th-grade student. The students cheered at the story of The Thirsty Crow that made headmaster ask, “What is the moral of the story?”, Samarth answered, “If we work hard, we can find the solutions to anything”. And a new story came in and the same process was repeated.
This was the scene at the celebration of Vaachan Prerna Diwas at Zila Parishad Primary School in Chincholi village (Tuljapur; Osmanabad District). It was during my fieldwork in Chincholi that I found myself exploring different dimensions of education in rural India and reflecting on the price of progress.
Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam’s birth anniversary on 15th October is celebrated as Vaachan Prerna Diwas (Reading Inspiration Day). This initiative was introduced in the year 2015 after the death of the former Indian President with the aim of remembering his inspirational work. Dr. Kalam was a visionary, he envisaged a country that could be humble yet a superpower with the confidence and unity of all its citizens. He believed that he was a student all his life, learning and absorbing knowledge every day.
If you want to shine like a sun, first, burn like a sun.
-A.P.J Abdul Kalam
Fortnight into my fieldwork, I was invited to be a part of the Vaachan Prerna Diwas celebrations. As I was told, this year the schools across rural Maharashtra and the nation celebrated the day as a ‘No- Bag’ day, as students came to school to read different books provided by the school without having to worry about academics.
What I witnessed was about to change my perception of education in rural India. The school had called for nearly 500+ story books for the day which included stories with morals, simple illustrations, and collection of short stories, biographies for children and folklores. The books were in three languages of Marathi, Hindi, and English; however, most of them were in Marathi.
The activity was conducted in an open ground, under a giant Imli tree. When asked, the headmaster commented, “this is done so that students get out of their daily school routine to connect with their surroundings and read with no constraints”. As the activities progressed, the students took turns and explained the books they read and what they learnt. At the end of the day, the books were to be added to the school library for easy access.
As a participant observer in the community and a voracious reader, I took pride in the fact that ‘reading’ beyond academics was encouraged at the grass root level. The sheer joy on the faces of students to share, laugh, related and revel in stories in itself asserted the importance of having innovation and alternative learning methods in our society.
However, it opened up my eyes to many spheres of education in our country. For instance, it was in the same village that I saw that differently abled and tribal children of school going age confined to their homes since there was no institutional facility to cater to their needs. There were no special needs educator or screening tests for learning disabilities, let alone the admission of the marginalized tribals in local schools; thereby going against the main aim of inclusive education as viewed in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Government of India’s flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education).
Just like education is a right, students also have the right to protest against corporal punishment and violation of any Child Rights. Recalling several accounts of students complaining that they were ‘beaten’ reminded me that the fear of the Chaadi (Cane Stick) was still practiced in rural Indian schools to straightjacket students into ‘ideal’. As reported by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report (2016), 47 million students drop out of school by class 10th in India. In such cases, corporal punishment does not come as a surprise in instilling fear of classroom in students asmost students as well as their parents are unaware of it being an offence.
With this, I believe that children, students, and the youth in villages have been neglected from the discourse on development and are continued to do so amounting to structural violence. They are not viewed as individuals but as invisible objects in the society, therefore, grouping them with senior citizens, women and the disabled. There is a dichotomy in our society wherein we are making so called ‘progress’ at the cost of ‘other’s’ misfortune. It is thus the need of the hour to realize the potential in these groups and include them in the dialogue on development, as they are an integral part in their village’s and nation’s progress.
Therefore, in my experience, Vaachan Prerna Diwas is a progressive step towards knowledge and learning to encompass the vision of Dr. Kalam. However, it should be followed by innovative follow-ups, institutional changes and inclusive development, since education is a continuous dialogue that stays within an individual for a lifetime.
“Without your involvement you can’t succeed, with your involvement you can’t fail” – APJ Abdul Kalam
Ritika Potnis is a MA student in Social Work in Rural Development of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur.