I see a board which has Nande written onto it in wide alphabets. This is our cue as even the bus starts to slow down. A look to my right tells me that we have reached the school. The big blue steel banner, painted in white with the name of the school stares at us. I feel the familiar smell of uncertainty engulf me. Fact – I have never taught school kids, especially in a school. The thought of teaching students of Class 7th was, I admit, a bit intimidating, just because it was the unknown till this moment. The same churning of emotion in the bellies was reflected on the faces of a lot of my batch-mates who had also volunteered for teaching students through this initiative Prerna made possible by Social Entrepreneurship and Consulting Cell (SECC) of SIBM Pune.
As we walked into the school, staying close together for comfort, we saw a recess underway. Students, big and small, were playing football, badminton with racquets and plastic table tennis bats, cricket with and without bats, a bunch of 5 girls playing train-train, circuitously finding their way through the crowd. It reminded me of the melange of games and sports that we used to play in the field during our school days where a football used to hit a batsman ready to face a ball by a bowler who is waiting for the pitch to get clear because younger students are running all over it running after a small bright-yellow plastic ball, which for a moment gets mixed up with another similar bright-yellow plastic ball thrown by a student who is playing throw-throw, a game which included throwing and catching a ball in turn by two teams standing on opposite ends of the ground – in short, a microcosm of the rich playful energy of all kinds that is epitomized by children across barriers of race, community, religion and nation.
The bell was sounded and the students were called in to their classes. When we reached just outside the classroom, a student with a black monkey-cap on the head ran up to us and gave us a mango-bite each. We were told by his sidekick, who always seemed to accompany him, that it was his birthday today. Then they ran into the classrooms. As we entered the rooms cautiously, the first thing I noticed was that the boys and girls were sitting separately – the girls on two rows on the left of the class and the boys on one row towards the right. I reminded myself that this was the rule and not the exception. We were faced by an eager looking bunch of around thirty kids, who got up instantaneously and started singing in unison a “welcome teacher” jingle, which was obviously taught to them, and which nostalgically reminded me of the “gooood moorrrniiiinnnggg siirrrr”, the elongated wish which was the established norm in school, universally replicated in each and every class room.
After preliminary instructions, we started by teaching them basic introductions in English like “I am a student”, “You are teachers”, “We/they are students” etc. Initially we tried addressing the class as a whole, but seeing that we teachers did not seem like strict disciplinarians, the boys, who interestingly formed just 1/3rd of the class, started chatting amongst themselves. So after a basic address to the whole class, we started roaming about in the class, asking the girls and the boys to individually recite the conversation starters to each other and we went about correcting individual mistakes.
Some students were eager to perform – especially one girl whose body language was very confident. Whenever we asked anyone to come up to the front of the class, she looked at any girl sitting around her and tilted her head as if to say “Hey come on! Let’s do it!” Then there were others – a smallish girl sitting on the front bench, who was so shy that when we asked her to recite a sentence, she looked shyly at their partner and hid her head behind her, laughing uncontrollably.
The most difficult part was to get the boys and the girls to perform a group activity together. The boys seemed shyer at this than the girls. It was tough to get them to do an introduction round together. The girls seemed pretty okay with it, but utter shyness made the boys bend, twist and loll their bodies in impossible ways. Also, when we asked the boys to write a couple of sentence “He is _____” and “She is _____”, they completed the first sentence, but for the second, did not write a name. One of them, hiding the sentence on his notebook with both his hands and with a wide grin on his face, said he will write the girl’s name later.
After about an hour, we were asked to let them have a break of about 10 minutes. That was it – there was no looking back. Afterwards, when we tried to get them back in the classrooms, we were told that once they are let out to play again, it’s very difficult to discipline them again to go back in. So we gave up trying. Moreover, today being a Saturday, we could not see a single teacher around. So the students were in their full gaiety and merriment.
One thing that was difficult to miss was the difference between the 7th Class girls and the rest of the school students. The “senior” girls reflected discipline, standing in line waiting for their chance to play badminton, curious faces affected with the burden of imminent adulthood, disciplined by their mothers not to mingle much with boys, and looking responsible far beyond their years. The rest of the kids looked like a mish-mash of fun, playfulness and frolic, what with their unique game of jumping upon the teachers, trying to hang from them like one would from a branch of a tree, all at the same time.
Soon it was time to leave. There were endearing kids that came to us and said good bye, requesting us to come again “tomorrow”. To the responsible and mature ones, we told that tomorrow would not be a possibility, but another time in the next week could happen. I also asked the SECC guys to organize something before our mega-fest Transcend begins next weekend. We had tea and vada-pav, which each one agreed were far better than what we got in our university canteen. May be it was the delicious taste of self-satisfaction.
Nande opened my eyes to the extremely poor quality of education in government schools in rural areas. Also the lack of teachers and funding, social inhibitions and absence of fruitful ways of making students learn stifle the creative in each one of them. What they need is an effort to go beyond rote learning, to learn more than just words. Nonetheless, their spirit to learn and their sprightly enthusiasm floored me and it gives me hope. Hope that there is enough want but only lack of availability. Hope that if persistent efforts are made, a change can be brought about. And this is where the true India begins. It is time the politicians leave their ivory towers of discussions, speculation and suggestions and get down to some real work.