From the margins to the mainstream
What does the mention of a school run by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), remind one of? A crumbling structure with boisterous children, perhaps.
Commonly called ‘Corporation schools’, these institutions are considered neglected. But the BBMP Girls’ High School on Thimmaiah road in Bharathi Nagar, a neighbourhood in central Bangalore, is unique.
Annually, this school has had around 250 vivacious students in classes VIII to X owing largely to the efforts of its proactive and progressive headmaster of eight years, Balappa Y P and the committed members of the staff.
Balappa shared, “Most of the girls are Urdu speakers and commute long distances from Devarajeevanahalli and neighbourhoods around Tannery road in north-eastern Bangalore.
Many of the children belong to financially challenged families. A few of them are orphans while some have only one parent. For some of the girls, the only wholesome meal is the one they eat in the school at noon”.
Transformed young women
A teacher in the Bharati Nagar BBMP institution observed, “The children come from schools that offer education in various languages such as Kannada, Tamil and Urdu. But in our school, the medium of instruction is English. Within a year there is a visible difference in their ability to articulate in a confident and uninhibited manner. They also gain awareness of several opportunities and a broad understanding of society. This makes them aspire to study further and become self-reliant”.
Many of the girls are keen to work on computers, can communicate in English fluently and are determined to pursue higher education. Kausar Bi, a student of class IX, has the traits of a natural leader and expresses herself without hesitation. Her schoolmates Mehtab P and Afreen Sultana sing mellifluously in multiple languages.
“I want to become a teacher. While Nusrat Bano, one of my classmates wants to join the police force, another hopes to become a civil servant in order to enhance services for disadvantaged communities”, Farida, a girl in class X revealed. Nusrat, Farida and Kausar are among the children who are carrying forward the school’s tradition of award winning participation in the annual Independence and Republic Day parades at the Manekshaw Ground in Bangalore.
Although the BBMP supplies uniforms and books to children who study in schools that it runs, it does not provide bicycles to girls unlike those who are in State government institutions. Since most of the students in the Bharati Nagar BBMP Girls’ High School hail from economically backward households, the staff members work hard to obtain support for requirements like bus passes and stationery from organisations and individuals.
Apart from this, the headmaster invests a lot of effort in persuading relevant government authorities to enhance the infrastructure at the school. Small wonder that blackboards, furniture and computers in the school are in good condition and are being utilised regularly and with care.
In addition, Balappa has ensured there are adequate class rooms, a library, play area and restrooms constructed and takes pains to maintain them well. It is obvious that he realises that safe and hygienic toilets are critical for adolescent girls to continue to attend school regularly. Another important aspect of the school is that the headmaster and teachers invite counsellors to engage in candid conversations with the children on the psychological and physiological changes in their bodies and how to deal with them. The school also encourages people to mentor the girls or conduct activities for them on a voluntary basis.
The administrative staff and teachers not only provide motivation to the children personally, but also do their utmost to inform potential students and their families about the advantages of joining the school. During the summer vacation, they distribute leaflets in English and Urdu that highlight the facilities and activities that the school has to offer. They also run classes after school and during holidays to tutor the girls in various subjects and conversational English.
The teachers also keep track of the well-being of their students in a regular manner and get in touch with their families if they are absent for more than two consecutive days.
“We keep a record of the contact information of the parents or guardians of our students. This is absolutely essential as we need to intervene to ascertain that the girls are not kept at home to be married off”, Balappa revealed. That the families of the students back them is evident from their enthusiastic presence and appreciation at the school’s annual day celebrations regularly.
The mother of one of the girls said, “I am happy that my daughter is studying well here”. Incidentally, two years ago, the children and their parents staged a successful protest in front of the office of the local BBMP councillor when they heard that Balappa would be transferred out of the position of headmaster.
A common remark that an interaction with the students of the BBMP High School, Bharathi Nagar, elicits, “The girls are sprightly and capable in contrast to many children from disadvantaged communities. It is a testimony to the fact that the proactive perseverance of a few people can have a positive impact on the lives of those who live on the margins of society”.
(The names of the students were changed to protect their identity.)