Rural India’s young teachers

Reason for hope

It is mid-September and Barmer is blazingly hot. It is also the time of the only harvest in the year. The rains have been kind and the bajra, moong, moth and til crops would be ready in two weeks. We walk between head-high stalks of bajra to reach the village government schools which are sometimes more than a kilometre away from the road.

By 8 am, at the primary school in the village of Rupanon Bangadwar-ki-dani, morning assembly is done, and the two teachers have organized the 45 children of five classes into two groups. Ganesharam, a teacher with 20 years of experience, doubles up as the school in-charge and teaches Maths and English. Ganpat, his wiry, smiling young colleague, has been teaching Hindi and environmental science (EVS) since 2015 and he sets the tone for our week in Barmer. For Ganpat, learning is beyond the textbooks. The courtyard and garden are his learning resources. Interestingly, he first takes us to the plants on whose taller stems are withered, blackened stumps of ‘failed grafting’ attempted by his students. “These hold a lot more learning because my children have understood where, when and how grafting works.”

Having showed us the failed experiment, he takes us to a nursery of plants where the children’s efforts at grafting seem to be working. And then to the flower bed, where Ganpat has grafted for multi-coloured flowers to bloom from a single plant. Hindi and EVS blend seamlessly in his classes; the children are not shy of asking questions of strangers. Ganpat does not quieten them. He does not want them to merely memorise and regurgitate.

I spent the next afternoon with Moolaram Machra at his school in the village of Kaakdon ki-dani. A school topper, Moolaram, 28, is a double MA in Hindi and Philosophy. He has bought over 300 books for his students from the SSA library grant and encourages every child to build their reading habit. Of serious and scholarly demeanour, within four years as a teacher, he is already a master resource person for his block and has also won a national award for innovation in the classroom. Not surprisingly, he used his award money to buy excellent teaching resources for the school.

Some 500 kilometres east of Barmer is Tonk. From among the 50-plus teachers I met there, let me take you into the classroom of Govind as he taught maths to the children of Classes I and II at his school in Rawat village. Teacher and students sit in a circle as Govind helps them understand the concept of numbers. Usually, teachers use pebbles or beads strung on twine to teach this. However, Govind had given each child a few small wooden cubes and cuboids to count, add, subtract and create numbers. “Pebbles cause injury. Our village carpenter had a lot of leftover teak pieces that were useless for him. I asked him to chop these into small blocks. I also use these to help children understand patterns, shapes and build stable constructions.”
Govind is just 26 and joined the education department in 2017 after clearing the REET (Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers). His father is a tailor in the village but many of his relatives are teachers, and he was motivated to become one, too.

Bright and inquisitive, Govind curates a lot of teaching-learning material and everything he displayed was accompanied by a demonstration of its application. Govind is slim and fit and when I compliment him on his agility, he immediately demonstrates how he can spring up, from sitting cross-legged on the floor, balancing himself on one leg. This child-like pleasure in simple things is perhaps the secret to this man’s enduring energy.
Ganpat, Moolaram and Govind are symbols of the young millennial teachers in rural government schools. They have come into the profession by clearing the Teachers Eligibility Test conducted by the state education department. Observing their teaching, it is evident that their subject knowledge is good, which is a clear improvement on earlier times.

These youngsters are very comfortable in their skin and there is a ‘what you see is what you get’ transparency when one interacts with them. They respect the ability of the head-teachers to connect with the community and their tenacity to coax resources for the school. I saw them use technology sensibly in the classroom. A pen drive with good material is plugged to the LED TV as these young teachers carefully use this teaching aid to help them manage a multi-grade teaching environment. The material is dynamic and periodically refreshed so that children have something new and interesting to learn.
In the course of my study, many stories have emerged, with different strands and patterns, of the heroic teachers of rural India: the extraordinary lady teachers of rural India; teachers committed to their self-development; the spirit of scientific enquiry being nurtured in some of India’s remotest schools; and how equity and quality in the classroom reflect the teachers’ belief that every child can learn.

Barmer reminded me that I must add another strand to the narrative – the emerging pattern of how young teachers are setting the tone in classroom, school and community.
As state governments seriously conduct tests to select and appoint school teachers, there is already over the last seven years, a perceptible difference in the quality of teachers entering the profession. In Rajasthan, at least 25% of the 3.3 lakh teachers would be less than 35 years old. Over 65% of the teachers who participate in voluntary teacher forums and avail the facilities in teaching learning centres are the ‘youth brigade’. So, keep an eye on the young recruits, for these are the bright, sharp, agile teachers who will take India’s children forward. The task of a rural government schoolteacher is very challenging, but if we encourage them, help them develop their capabilities and recognize their efforts, they will make a big difference to the quality of our school education.

(The writer is Chief Operating Officer, Azim Premji University, and author of the forthcoming book, ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teachers’ (Westland Books))

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