The fact that hundreds of rural students travel to nearby towns and cities to attend private schools indicates the fading popularity of government schools in spite of popular programmes like mid-day meal, free uniform and books. At the juncture, we can see a few efforts that are striving to provide quality education to rural children by enhancing the infrastructure of government schools. One such initiative has helped Madahalli Government Higher Primary School in Mandya district regain its momentum.
The School, which was started in 1956, catered to the educational needs of the region in its initial years. The School’s strength was at its peak in the 1990s, when the number crossed 150. Gradually, the School lost its popularity and was left with just 30 children and three teachers. Eventually, the School was about to shut down, due to the lack of students, a few years back. When old students learned about the changed situation, they decided to help the School regain its lost glory.
Bhoomi Gowda, a retired professor, initiated this incredible initiative by forming an alumni association. He managed to bring in more than 50 old students, now settled in different places. The team realised that the School was plagued by many problems like the lack of basic amenities like drinking water and sanitation. There was a shift in the mindset of parents and they preferred sending their children to nearby private schools, as they felt that private schools give better education than government schools. The team gave priority to improve the quality of teaching to attract more students. “A few years back, the number of students was very less and it made school life dull for us. Now I am in 6th standard and feel happy that I can make more friends. More children means more friends and more fun,” says Anusha, a student.
In the next step, they managed to shift the village anganwadi centre to the School campus, which enabled smooth transfer of children to the first standard. Constant interactions with parents of anganwadi children paid off and they obliged to admit their wards to the School in the same campus. The team constructed toilets in the School for the use of students. Every year, they started giving a set of uniform and books along with the government supply. “The initiative has helped the School regain its old glory,” says Nagaraj K, a teacher.
Even parents seem to be happy about the initiative. “It is good to know that a government school is giving quality education on par with private schools. It is difficult for economically deprived parents to send their children to private schools, but the dream of a better educational opportunity is always there. The present initiative has resolved the problem by improving teaching in government schools and helping children with other facilities,” feels Thimme Gowda, a parent.
Each member has something or the other to give back to the School. It may be a projector or a computer or information. All these efforts resulted in the
increase in the number of students from 30 to 90 in a span of five years. The next project of the team is to build a room for computers and to screen films. The success of this team has inspired old students of Madduru and K R Pet government schools. They too have formed alumni associations and efforts are on to revive their schools, which have faced the same fate.
On one hand, the story of Madahalli School shows the possibility of attracting children to government schools. At the same time, if such initiatives do not understand the role of education in creating sustainable and equitable society, they become mere imitation of so-called ‘English medium private schools’. It reminds me of a brilliant documentary called Schooling the world: the white man’s last burden, directed by Carol Black. It is about how modern education has become an effective tool to colonise people and alienate them from their culture and environment.
Initiatives like that of Madahalli need to involve local community and make them understand the real meaning and spirit of education and make them stop aping the ‘modern’ schooling. That is the real challenge of the present education system.