know about Janapada Sampada
THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF EDUCATION
The Bose Foundation School...
Baidyanath Saraswati, Shivashankar Dube & Ram Lakhan Maurya
Recollections in Educational Administration
When in July 1979 the management of the school at Annapurna Shikshalaya was handed to me, the school’s existence was pitiable. It had a total of some fifty children. The headmistress, four women teachers, and an ayah were looking after the school. Working within four walls, these ladies were limited in their thought and practice and were used to living within a narrow compass. To bring them together into our new thinking and purpose was a difficult job. Although we had a desperate want of resources, we had dedication in our thoughts. We had the potential for shaping our new thoughts into practice. More important was the fact that we had the benefit of honourable Baidyanath Saraswati’s guidance. Despite our resourcelessness we were, therefore, full of a new energy and excitement. The school was named Sarojini Vidyakendra after the founder of the Annapurna Shikshalaya.
The school’s ayah, Smt. Aruna Bhattacharya, was a widow. She was 55-year old. Her living was simple and respectable. She was soft-spoken. To the children and the guardians her identity had been nearly that of a maid. The first thing that we did was to change this identity into ‘grandmother’ or ‘sister’. Now as the children called her ‘grandma’, the guardians spontaneously began to address her as ‘sister’.
On 15 August 1979 a new ambition and excitement filled the school. Independence Day was to be celebrated for the first time in the school. It was time to hoist the flag. All teachers, children and some guardians were present. We had agreed that the flag-hoisting would be carried out by the school’s oldest lady, Aruna-di. At the right moment she pulled the flag strings. With a shower of flowers the national flag began to flutter in the air. Everyone saluted the flag. The practice of flag-hoisting by a government officer or a well-known person, according to the school tradition, thus ended and a new practice as well as a new tradition began.
The headmistress of the school was greatly displeased with this new arrangement. Other teachers were also unhappy. We tried to explain to them the idea of paying respect to the oldest member at the lower level of the staff, at least on such functions. But the anger of the teachers was not quietened at that time; it only faded out. The arrangement for 26 January 1980, Republic Day, was decided in the same manner. This time Aruna-di was not ready to undertake the flag-hoisting. She said, "The teachers get upset by it. I also feel unhappy. It is not appropriate for me to do it." Although she agreed after my words to her, she did not feel at home in her indecision. Hesitantly she unfurled the flag.
The first spring festival was arranged for January 1980. A three-day programme was organised for art exhibition, dance, drama and music. All guardians, children and residents of the neighbourhood were invited. The school volunteers were occupied with keeping order. Police assistance had not been asked for. Spectators made quite a crowd on the first day. The crowd began to press for want of space. At the same time some uncivil persons began to come in. Some were intoxicated with drink. Fear and apprehension began to grow in the spectators. The situation went beyond the volunteers’ control. Quarrels started. In their apprehension the spectators began moving away. The programme had to be postponed midway. The situation became quiet after some pleading.
It was necessary to take police help in desperation on the second day of the programme. Admission cards were introduced to limit the crowds. Those who could not enter began throwing stones into the pandal during the programme. The programme started under police vigilance. Now a new problem appeared. A Muslim girl who had been trained in Bharatanatyam had given a performance on the previous day and the spectators had acclaimed the dance. On the second day the same dance could not take place because that girl did not turn up. I went to her home to find out the reason for her absence. The guardian spoke about her aching stomach, and therefore she was instructed not to take part in the programme. For us it was a great disappointment because she has prepared the dance with great industry and expertise.
After a few days it became known that the girl was really not indisposed. Her father had forced her to stop taking part in the programme. A few Muslim neighbours had seen the girl’s dance on the first day. They told her father that singing and dancing went against their tradition. The privacy of their honoured heritage had been injured. The result was that the father prevented the girl from performing. Not only that, he also objected to her schooling. Her two younger brothers in infant classes were transferred to another school.
Earlier the girl’s father had proved a keen governor for our school. In his unselfish service he had also taken up the responsibility for teaching Urdu to the children at the school. This episode, however, knocked us in many areas. Three children of our school went to another school, and their father stopped teaching Urdu. It was widely said in the neighbourhood that the school provided little education and wasted time in teaching singing and dancing.
Lesson learnt. For the next year’s spring festival we included children in the programme only after obtaining the consent of their guardians. Despite this some children involved in the rehearsal for the programme went out of town at the time when they were required to perform. The guardians did not take it seriously. In this way we had to confront in the beginning many such obstacles in relating the children to cross-cultural performances.
Our objective is not to provide bookish knowledge in a formal manner but to make efforts to bring out the creative talents hidden in the children. Holding subsidiary classes in music, dance, drama and art as well as competitions in them are the efforts in this direction. As a result of this initial enterprise the children presented on the stage the impressions of their inner feelings with a kind of ease and simplicity from which we came to know that the natural genius for art is latent in every child.
My experience is that not only are the feelings and thoughts of the children at our school different from those of pupils in public and convent schools, there is also a relatively greater degree of naturalness in them. Perhaps this is because these children are not the offsprings of competing households.
From sixteen years of experience we have come to understand that in all forms of teaching the role of music, dance and drama is important. Most of our children come from the household environments of artists and craftsmen. We study them first before we try to teach. They remain strangers to haphazard and quick learning. We try to relate the children particularly to prayer, meditation, music and dance, acting and sports. On the basis of our experience we can say that in all these involvements an atmosphere is created where the children are ‘disciplined’ on their own, and where there is discipline the idea of controlling is rooted out.
Although we confront even now many obstacles to relate the children to artistic manifestations, the parental opposition that used to appear during the early years does not exist today. One of the most important reasons for this is that our old boys and girls, who are now learning in upper classes, encourage their younger siblings to participate in the cultural programmes. If there is any opposition from parents it is sorted out by itself. Not only that, if their brothers and sisters are not selected for any important competition, the old pupils are disappointed.
The school’s second year began. It was July 1980. There was much pressure on the school in this month. The headmistress was ill. She was on leave from 11 July. I was facing a lot of difficulty in dealing with the children’s enrolment and TC. On 13 July another mistress was absent without notice. The school was somehow running with three teachers. I also went to teach the children in an unengaged classroom. On the second day I went to see the headmistress at home. I advised her to come to school only after she was well. She was worried by the news about the school.
On 15 July no mistress had arrived at the school by 7 o’clock. Aruna-di also had not come. The children had come and had become noisy. I made a child ring the bell for the prayer. All went to sit in the prayer hall. I was worried. Aruna-di had just come. She put four envelopes on the table and said, ‘Read them, bhaisaheb’. I opened the envelopes and read the letters. They were from four mistresses about a collective resignation.
I went to the prayer hall in poise. I completed the prayer and meditation. The children were serious. Of the teachers I was the only one present before them. I could understand their seriousness. Breaking their questioning silence I said, "Children, accidentally your sisters (mistresses) are on leave for urgent business. So, no teaching will be possible today. You let go home and study your lessons there". The children went away.
This put me into great difficulty. I informed my friends Baidyanath Saraswati and Ramlakhan Maurya about events after they had come to the school. We had never imagined that the mistresses could bring themselves to submit their resignation in unison. We went to the headmistress. We informed her about the incident. She wondered why it happened. She made no comment but let us go with the assurance of her presence at the school the next day.
We decided that teaching must not be suspended even for a day. The young pupils in our own households were selected for this.
Next day the school opened at the right time. Some enterprising young boys and girls had been collected from our own households to teach the children. Among them Kumud Maurya, Rajesh Shrivastav, Sudha Dubey and Divya Maurya should be named especially. I was waiting for the headmistress but she did not come and instead her resignation arrived. I felt depressed by her conduct.
The entire situation became clear. The design to put the school into trouble had been arranged beforehand and in this the role of the headmistress was the most important. She had nine years’ experience in the management of this school. I had learnt quite a lot about managing the school from her within the brief span of a year. I also had the intention to learn much more from her in future. Her departure from the school in this way with all her fellow mistresses was very unfortunate. In running the school I always moved with her before me. I had tried to keep the mistresses in a firm self-confidence to explain or understand our new efforts and purposes. Although certainly there were occasionally differences of opinion, we respected one another at the practical level. We had taken up the school as an experimental institution. For us it was a challenge in the area of primary education. The old mistresses condemned this challenge and confronted us with a resignation in unison with the claim that the school would not operate without them. We bowed to them. To call them back was recommended. We had, however, accepted everyone’s resignations.
Today there is no place for a headmistress at our school. The mistress who has, however, acquired the image of dutifulness and dedicated service among her colleagues, has come to be seen as the senior-most mistress. In everyone’s heart grew a love and attraction towards her. The mistresses addressed her as Barididi (older sister).
Initially the school was running on its very limited resources. With the change of management we were forced to confront serious financial problems. The mistresses were taking sixty rupees every month as salary. We set the salary to a scale and made it eighty rupees every month. The increase was met with donations. The following year we tried to solve this problem by increasing the number of pupils at the school. According to an earlier arrangement the school was getting some regular financial assistance from the Sharda Sangha. The Sangha stopped paying our institution. In terms of our constitution we could not take assistance from the government. Our foremost challenge was this terrible situation of financial deficiency.
We did not appoint teachers with prior advertisement but invited talented, enterprising and dedicated young men and women. The intention of love, respect and good feelings was prominent in this invitation. The teachers came to us not to work but to serve. The tradition is continuing even now. Is it possible to imagine such dedicated teachers living in respectability when they are paid only three hundred rupees every month? It is an inconvenient question for us. At the moment the total number of children is 125. Our fees for a month are forty rupees. About twenty-five children are exempt from fees. In comparison with the fees at other schools our monthly fees are lower by a half. Although we feel strongly that we should not take fees from such poor children, we cannot help it. The fees are our only support.
The money that is required for festivals, cultural programmes and to prepare the children for their participation in competitions is entirely separate. Our teachers and children meet this expenditure from the collection of donations, although this flow of income has become slender.
It has never been possible to keep a teacher on a regular honorarium for dance, drama, music, painting and yoga. We are left with no extra money for them. We are able to give them only their cost of travel. It is only the honesty and dedication of such teachers that have enabled our children to give us memorable performances. We also receive the cooperation of some social organisations and workers influenced by our performance. The arrangement for the toilets, furniture, fans, water, etc., is the contribution of such organisations.
We have two problems, internal and external. The want of dedicated teachers and finance is the principal internal problem. Today the teacher wants to teach as an employee. There is no feeling of service and dedication to education at all in this. We have to retrain the teachers and mistresses we select to our requirements. When they become capable in their service to the school a few years after the retraining, they become impatient to leave the school for various reasons. If one leaves for permanent employment, another leaves after marriage. We do not receive any benefit for our labour and time. We cannot pay any honorarium to the teachers of dance and drama. With only the cost of travel they offer their services voluntarily, but under pressure of responsibilities have to leave the school.
The role of guardians and immediate neighbours appears before us as the external problem. We take the children’s guardians into three types. The first are the guardians from among the illiterate, the poor and labourers. The number of their children is the highest in the school. Most of them are devoured by such bad pastimes as gambling, alcohol and lotteries. They are oblivious to their children’s education. They think that once the children are put into the school, the school has the full responsibility for them. The second type of guardians, who are somewhat literate, continue to try to get their children into the school at the secondary level. As soon as they have succeeded in this they remove their children from us. They argue that in this way they are free from the hassles of the children’s enrolment to secondary school. The third type, who have some education and whose financial status is also a little firm, get their children enrolled only so that they come to school and go back home. When their children have learnt something in a year or two, they send them to the English-medium convent schools. We made a programme to run every month a committee for such guardians. However, we did not receive their cooperation in this. Only eight or ten guardians could come to the meeting. The committee closed. The non-cooperation of the guardians is an obstacle for us.
The children’s environment and neighbours are also relevant as problems. Most children up to class V come from illiterate and poor households, chiefly of ‘untouchables’ (tanners) and weavers. Such a household is enclosed with a dense population and filthy environment. The children from such households play or loiter in dirty alleys after school hours. They are friends with the local loafing children who do not attend school. Their guardians do not understand the influence of the environment. They only know that the school is responsible when a child has failed in his study. They think the school is careless about their children’s education.
Here are a few actual experiences of shaping the children.
NK is an old pupil, a poor boy from an ‘untouchable’ caste. He used to sell rags and discarded saris with his mother after school hours. He passed class V in 1981. After studying elsewhere until class VIII he devoted himself fully to his own business. Despite this he maintains his connection with the school. Whenever there is a festival at the school, he comes uninvited and helps.
Once Aruna-di had become ill. He used to go to see her everyday, and took fruits, bread, biscuits, etc., for her. No one knew about it. When I went to see Aruna-di I came to know from her about NK’s sense of service. One day the doctor asked for Aruna-di’s phlegm to be tested. It was raining heavily. NK came to me soaking. Aruna-di had sent me a phial of phlegm with him. I began to wonder how it could be sent for testing in the torrential rain. NK gauged my worry. Despite the pouring rain he was ready to go to the hospital. Although he was told not to go out in this weather, he did not agree. He said, "Master saheb, Aruna-di has served the school so sincerely. Can’t we do even this little for her?" He went to the hospital in the downpour.
It was the school’s spring festival. Money was needed for choreography. I was worried. NK came to know about this problem from a teacher. After a while he came and put five hundred rupees before me. I could not understand at once. Laughing, he said, "Master saheb, do the festival with this money. I’ll be getting some more money by evening". I was only too happy with this modest and dedicated seventeen-year-old pupil.
GK and HA were brought for enrolment into the school. Because of the difference between their ages and education it was learnt on inquiry that they had already studied at several schools in the neighbourhood. They used to play truant. Instead of going to school they would wander and play around. They had been expelled from several schools for this reason.
The guardian was told to come to the school everyday to report on both and they were enrolled in class I and Infants A on this agreement.
The children’s mistresses were briefed fully on them. They were told to keep an eye on them as well as treat them with affection. At the same time, they were told to avoid too much pressure on learning and too much discipline.
After talking to both children with affection an attempt to win their confidence was made. An occasion to talk to them everyday was arranged. They had a great liking for sports. So they were given full facilities for sports at the recess. To organise sports they were made captains for football after a few days. They were given full responsibility for taking out, putting back and letting the children play with the ball.
Gradually both children began to come to the school regularly. They would come to the school premises half an hour before the school session. Taking out the football they would play a little and join the prayer in time. Whenever they found time from study they would play their game. When the school was closed for holidays, they would come frequently for the game. No hindrance was offered by the school to their love of sports.
After nearly a month one day the two children were seen at the school before time. However, they were absent at the time for the roll call in the classroom. A teacher was sent out at once to look for them. The two were discovered in a park in the company of a number of unknown children. They were brought to the school. With the assurance that they would not be punished for truancy and the guardian would not be informed, the reasons for their truancy were asked for. They said that with the temptation to take them to the pictures some of their old companions had encouraged them to leave out school for the day. They had collected the savings from their tiffin. The old companions who were the school’s discards had threatened them because they did not take them to the pictures.
The children revealed the entire story truthfully. They were advised to leave the bad children’s company and were also told that if in future they were threatened or harassed they should come to the school straight away and report the matter.
I made clear to them the results of the evil company of bad children and rewarded them for telling the truth, because they had the opportunity to lie. GK was made the prefect for his class. With this making an astonishing change appeared in his conduct. Both children gave up the unknown children’s company. The regularity of their attendance remained satisfactory. They also improved their performance in study. They continued with interest in keeping themselves in the front with the school programme, such as cleaning the classroom, putting the children’s shoes in a series, placing the children in line at prayer time and ringing the bell.
Both children remained at the school for three years. Their guardian was quite satisfied with them. He said that the same children also used to steal money at home. Now they had changed radically. They helped with the housework. They had given up the wayward children’s company and remained engaged with regularity in their study.
At the moment both children are carrying out important responsibilities in their family trade (weaving).
KM (10 years old, Class IV) used to study in his village. He could not take an interest in study. His everyday routine was fighting with children at the school, tearing up exercise and reading books and running away from the school whenever he liked. His family was harassed by his waywardness. He was chastised more and more severely at school but his impertinence kept increasing. Finally he was expelled.
KM’s grandfather was a teacher at Banaras. He brought the boy to Banaras to educate him. He wished KM to get into our school. He gave a full report on KM. He believed that KM would change here.
Next day he came to me with his grandson. I asked KM a few questions. We talked. He had learnt nothing from his village school. Although he was not suitable for enrolment into the Infants, I took him into Infant-A though he was much older than the rest of the class. It was a complicated problem to teach him with little children. I told his grandfather, "If you take sufficient interest in KM, it will be possible for him to change".
KM began coming to the school. His impertinence started as well as the children’s complaints. I used to make him sit next to me. He would listen to me attentively. Frequently he would come to school late. The teacher used to warn him. I would talk to the teachers about KM’s problem and explain that he did know that he was coming to the school late everyday. We should keep him away from other children and keep watching. He has changed partially. He is coming to the school everyday. His grandfather had frequently complained that KM made a lot of mischief at home. Everyone was harassed. Only I could bring him round.
Finally KM’s householders got so harassed by his mischief that they sent him back to the village. It was discovered only later that KM had not attended the school for several days.
After a year KM’s grandfather again came to me with him. I warned him that my efforts would bring no fruits until they took his problem seriously. His grandfather assured me that he was now leaving KM in my care and I would get full support from him.
I understood that this time KM’s indiscipline was more complicated. I took him into a particular routine in my own control. I tied his responsibility to my own class. I left to KM the responsibility for cleaning the room everyday, the arrangement for drinking water and the circulation of notices. He continued doing all this with interest. Sometimes I would leave the office to get away for a while. After coming back I used to see KM sitting in his own place like a sentry reading or writing. I used to ask him to bring me anything he could write at home on his own. He would bring his writing and show it to me. I found in him the ability to act with a sense of honour. After a few days, at the children’s meeting I praised KM’s work and placed before the children’s conference the proposal that KM could take the responsibility for ringing the bell for the prayer. The children passed the proposal happily. KM began to ring the bell every morning at seven. His grandfather complained to me that KM went to the school frequently without breakfast and that I should correct him. I made it clear to his grandfather that he ought to understand KM’s responsibility and send him after giving him his breakfast at the right time. He might sacrifice his breakfast for want of time.
The boy was not absent even for a day in ringing the prayer bell. As a result of this a surprising change came over him. He began studying his class lessons on his own. He was selected as the prefect of the class.
Four years have gone by and KM is a pupil with this year’s class IV. He is now given entirely to his study. For attendance and regularity he is an ideal pupil at the school. He is also responsible for the equipment for the children’s games — carrom board, ball, ludo, etc. In all programmes at the school KM’s role is always significant. For sports and acting KM is the school’s prize pupil. The children love him.
All would like KM to leave the school only after passing class V.
DJ (14-years-old, Infants-A). His father drives an autorickshaw. He has a stepmother. It is a middle-class family. DJ was accustomed to steal other children’s tiffin to eat. At the tiffin break some children get occupied with sports. Their satchels remain in the classroom. After playing for some time they take tiffin. Some children frequently complained that someone stole their tiffin and ate it. For several days the mistresses did not feel concerned about it. However, when the complaints began coming regularly, they became watchful. Some children also complained about theft of erasers, pencils, etc. People started looking for the thief. Eventually DJ was found one day stealing tiffin. The mistresses admonished him. However, he could not give up his practice. He became well-known to the children as the ‘tiffin thief’. When no admonition made him get rid of the habit, a complaint was forwarded to his guardian. He was given a beating at home but he could not correct himself. One day his harassed class mistress forcefully brought DJ to me with a crowd of children. All requested me in one voice to send him out of the school.
I quietened everyone and directed them to their classrooms. I had DJ sit with me. Through discussion with him I tried to understand his thoughts. I found out from him that his stepmother frequently took money out of his father’s pocket. Often the husband and the wife quarrelled violently. DJ knew that his mother used to take money out of his father’s pocket in his absence without his consent and that she considered this act right. So DJ had understood that it was not immoral to take others’ belongings without their consent. He did not understand it was theft. It seemed to me that DJ had no thought for stealing, but only in his curiosity he opened another’s tiffin and seeing food before him, he ate it. For the tiffin he brought with him used to have good things to eat and they were always in sufficient quantity. The same was true for the erasers, pencils, books and exercise books in his satchel. No material was ever scarce.
I did not reprimand DJ for stealing tiffin. I asked him to take his tiffin with me everyday. I said that he would leave his tiffin with me from the next day and at the tiffin hour we two would have tiffin together.
He informed his mother about it and next day brought for tiffin puri and vegetables made to his instructions. When we were taking tiffin sitting together at the tiffin break, other children began looking at us with great interest. The children became a crowd. It was strange that DJ was taking tiffin today with the big ‘sir’. On the other hand, in his pride from a comparison between him and other children in taking his tiffin with me DJ was smiling, looking towards the children. ‘See, your friend also wants to taste your tiffin. Serve him as well’. DJ jumped up at once and put puri and vegetables into the mouths of two or three children. The children moved away from us sheepishly.
The routine of our taking tiffin together continued for weeks. Meanwhile, I used to praise his tiffin and say, "Your tiffin is always the best of all childrens". I used to check his satchel and say, "You have got everything, books, answerbooks, erasers and pencils, and they are the best of all". He had given me a beautiful pencil as a gift. Gradually I began encouraging DJ to give a share of his own tiffin to the children who used to call him ‘tiffin thief’. Sharing tiffin began to make DJ feel happy. With his fingers DJ would put tiffin into the mouths of those who hesitated.
After a few days I began to send DJ to his fellow pupils to take his tiffin and observe the responses it produced in him. I saw DJ had become a tiffin giver, giving and taking tiffin with other children with a happy expression. He began attending particularly to the children who could not bring tiffin from home. He would give them a share of his tiffin and request other children also to share their tiffin. DJ never again stole tiffin. Later he turned into a cooperative and industrious student devoted to his study. He passed class V with the Vidyakendra’s first class. At the moment he is a student in the class VIII at a different school. His greatest peculiarity is weaving on the looms after school hours at his leisure.
AJ (12-years-old, Class III) used to read at the school in Nownihal. He became friendly with bad children. He used to call mistresses names. He would come out of home for the school but wander around in school time with strange children. He would reach home when school ended. For this he got beatings at school and at home. He was unable to correct himself. A vexed family stopped his study. AJ enrolled in class III at our school. The guardian had already told me everything about him. One day AJ took five rupees out of a girl pupil’s satchel. The pupil complained to the class mistress. Everyone was questioned. However, nothing was discovered.
I asked AJ in private. In tears he admitted to stealing the money. Sobbing very loudly he said, ‘Master saheb, don’t tell anyone at home, please. I’ll get beaten up’. I quietened him. I congratulated him for telling the truth. I convinced him that I would tell no one about this. I asked him, "Why did you leave your old school?" He said that he got too much beating there. "When someone’s belongings were lost, only I was punished. I could not give myself to the study there".
One day AJ found fifty paisa on the school premises. He brought it to me and said, "Master saheb, someone has dropped this money. Please find out and give it to him". I spoke about his honesty at the children’s meeting. I rewarded him with an answerbook and a pencil.
AJ is now a class V pupil. He has surpassed everyone in physical labour. Only he is responsible for the school garden. His guardian says that he is mad about plants and flowers. He has also got flower pots at home. He spends his pocket money only on them. He does not show any bad habit any more.
©1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi