Heralding a silent revolution

Heralding a silent revolution

Heralding a silent revolution

The story of Monojit Dutta sounds like a fairy tale. In the age of cut throat professionalism, this headmaster of a school in a remote hamlet in Howrah district picks school dropouts and child labour from brick kiln, keeps them in a hostel, which he runs from his own money and prepares them for the board examinations.

For the last 12 years, this apparently low-profile person has been producing some of the best young minds in the district.

When Monojit Dutta took over as the headmaster of Gujarpur Shibganj Bishalakshi High School in Howrah district, nearly 100 km from Kolkata, in 2001, the dropout rate was alarmingly high, touching nearly 54 per cent because educating their children was never a priority for the parents and rather they wanted them to support the families. After 11 years of  continuous struggle, this man has not only convinced the parents to send their wards to the classes but also has produced some of the brilliant students.

“When I joined the school in 2001, it lacked environment for studies. The students were more interested in going to the field and help their parents or take up a job in a brick kiln. Some of them who managed to attend the classes went to the river after school to catch shrimps. No one studied and the school fared very badly in the board examinations,” Monojit Dutta, who received President’s Award for excellence in teaching in 2008, told
Deccan Herald.

“While taking classes I found that some of them were quite intelligent but as they were more busy managing their daily chores it was very hard for them to find time for studies. I felt something should be done to bring these children back to the school,” Dutta said.

When asked how he made this happen, Dutta said: “My first challenge was setting up a hostel because unless I kept these children under my supervision they would not read. I managed a grant from the Directorate of School Education and started constructing a hostel. Today the hostel can accommodate 40 students.”

The hostel not only provides free accom­modation but also gives books and tuition to the students. Every year Dutta, who runs the hostel with meagre donation and his own money, handpicks 20 students from the underprivileged families and provides them with all facilities so that they can fare well in the exam.

 In the initial years, Dutta had to do a daunting task of approaching not only the students but also their parents as well and convince them to send their wards to school and sometimes even had to give money to the family so that they allow their children to continue their education.

“I saw that neither the parents nor the students were interested in studies and so it became my daily routine to try and change the mindset of parents, students and teachers. Unless they understand the importance of studies there is no point in forcing them,” Dutta said. 

Dutta convinced the teachers and made them realise that their job went
beyond classroom teaching and inspired them to get into the bottom of the problems that kept the students away from the school.

“Slowly, I started gaining confidence as children started coming to school.
Problems still persist but I am hopeful of solving them,” Dutta added.

The students, who are considered to be among the best in the district, share equally interesting stories like their “sir.” Biswajit Mondal, who is now a fourth year student of electrical engineering at the prestigious Jadavpur University, worked in a tailoring shop before Dutta picked him  and admitted to his hostel.

Ritendra Parui who is pursuing a course in engineering in computer science was a dropout and was working in brick kiln.

“I could not have completed my Higher Secondary if sir didn’t help me. He is god to me. If ever I get a chance I shall try to carry on the mission initiated by my sir,” Kuntal Bera who scored 93 per cent in higher secondary but had left studies and was working with his father in the field before Dutta took his responsibilities, said.

Prosenjit Porea who scored 85 per cent in higher secondary this year worked in a brick kiln after passing his Madhyamik (Class X) exam with 75 per cent marks. Dutta convinced his father and brought this boy back to school.
“My teachers were always with me. A teacher gave away all the money he got as medical allowance to buy a bicycle for a student who lived far away. The next year, he collected funds from neighbourhood to set up a library. He also inspired teachers to organise special coaching classes after school. “Students who were bright but poor were accommodated in the hostel. We also arranged for their meals,” the headmaster said.

Dutta who retired from Gujarpur Shibganj Bishalakshi High School in 2008 and is now heading Jagacha Unsani Junior High School-- a school in the same district--still runs the hostel and plays an active role in the development of the school.

“The governing body of the school takes my advice and follows them
religiously. Whenever I get time I come and take classes and help the children as much as I can. I get immense pleasure in helping students,” Dutta added.

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