During the course of my fellowship, I studied dozens of schools superficially and worked closely with 4 of them. All four were tribal ashram schools (residential schools funded by Tribal Development Department) in the Nandubhar district of Maharashtra. This is primarily a tribal dominated district in the state. I work with children to create motion picture documentaries which will capture the best practices in these tribal ashram schools.
Working with the kids in the schools is the easier part, while working with the teachers was slightly difficult. I would never get them. The school that stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the 4 was Kolda ashram school. The teachers here would routinely disturb me, not allowing me to extend the class even if the kids were charged up, give me the last hours of the day to conduct classes, scheduling routine medical check-ups during my hours… The result, I had managed to conduct only 3 classes during 3 months.
During the whole struggle, I was asked to take Friday classes. I was thrilled at the gesture and really respected their concern towards my work. On Friday I landed up at the school and started my class. I was happy at the success and was trying to get the pupils’ attention with a small game. After a few minutes, an old lady barged into my class and instructed all the children to assemble at the ground. This ambush and her military bearing with the children ensured that the children were gone in no time. I was confused and furious.
A week after that, I was literally thrown out of the school, for on grounds of interrupting school activities. I then started working with 2 other schools. The situation was the same there, but I was able to conduct classes without any hindrances. I completely ignored the Kolda School.
Finally, the program coordinator of my project Mr Pagare, the field coordinator Ms Ali and I arrived at a decision to hold a meeting with the staff of Kolda School. Mr Pagare with his experience conducted the meeting intelligently asking me to explain the objectives and to show them the results of the other schools which I had already done several times before.
The teachers had nothing but complaints not only about me but also about Ms Ali, who like me works there. Mr.Pagare just accepted all these complaints and even expressed apologies on our behalf. I pushed them to agree to nine full day’s commitment whereby I could compress all the 3 months work into it. The headmaster agreed to allow me to work for two full days in the school on a holiday which was to be clubbed with a Sunday and said that he would eventually let us know about the rest of the days. We agreed immediately and left.
Post the meeting, Mr Pagare asked me to invite the principal trustee of the school to inaugurate our two-day workshop. I understood the rationale behind the scheme. He wanted to smoothen out the problems with that idea.
The principal trustee of the Kolda School, Mr.Raghuvanshi was an ex-MLA. He readily agreed to my proposal and promised to extend help in all possible ways. I took this promise lightly considering his political history. Of course it was his school, but the attitude was different from the teacher. We informed him a day prior to the workshop and also tried to inform the head master of the school but he never received nor returned our calls. I finally sent a message via SMS about the latest development.
Mr Raghuvanshi arrived at the school well in time, in fact on time. We were late by ten minutes. The Headmaster’s face showed anger and he took us aside to question us on what the occasion was. The visit of the big man had the Headmaster running for cover. Well it looked like it was to be a big event: two SUVs, body- guards, a secretary and a press reporter to my surprise. I was totally impressed with Mr Raghuvanshi’s punctuality and sincerity.
I concentrated on the job, did not entertain the Headmaster’s private enquiry and took him to the dais where all these people were seated. I spoke about my work and requirements. Mr. Raghuvanshi asked the staff to extend their cooperation towards the project and the headmaster readily agreed.
We were all relaxed except for the Headmaster. He spoke to the children and asked them to be attentive in my class. The principal trustee spoke to me and wished me good luck and left. I asked the children to gather in the classroom. The Headmaster laughed nervously at me and said “Sandeep bhai, it is very rare to find people with commitment and Mr.Raghuvanshi is one of them”. I expected the nervousness, but felt uncomfortable at being addressed as ‘bhai’. He continued to say “you should have informed me earlier so that I could have made better arrangements. I was just able to get a press reporter”. That really confused me; I enquired if that was not the big man’s idea to which he replied “I just wanted to help my reporter friend to find some news, poor chap sometimes lacks news”. Good Heavens! I told myself that I would never be a teacher.
That incident changed my impression about that 87 year old man who works at his farm and runs around 10 schools. While my impressions are sometimes deceptive, my understanding of teachers at government schools still stands true. I worked till late that day and the teacher took care of my food, chai, accommodation, sent out hot water for bathing and even jilabees to my surprise – and that too, on a Sunday.
– SBI Youth for India fellow Sandeep Vishwanath. His project was on ‘Teaching Tribal Children through the medium of Cinema’