“Utho, Jaago, Lokhyo naa pohchano porjonto thaamo naa (Get up, Wake up, and until you find your destination don’t stop),” is the welcoming phrase at the entrance of the small primary school in Gundlubari Village, situated at Hura block in Purulia District of West Bengal. On entering the school, the course towards the classroom, resembles a highway with milestones, traffic signal and signboards in which slogans like “Safe Drive Save Life” are imprinted. The use of cartoons and colourful graffiti conveying social messages, instructions to children about the various do’s and dont’s in the school are thoughtfully implemented to attract children.
In recognition of its efforts, the co-educational school from Grades 1 to 4 which has an attached pre-primary section, received the Nirmal Vidyalaya Award in 2015 and Sishumitra Vidyalaya Puruskar in 2016.
The Gundlubari Primary School has a gleaming look, with children reciting aloud their chapters, playing around or engrossed in their co-curricular activities. “I believe, for all-round development of a child it is important to engage them in other activities apart from classroom teaching,” says Pratap Chandra Mahato, the Headmaster, who has been rendering his service to the school since 2014.
However, the situation was quite contrary to what it is today. Earlier people were reluctant to send their children to school. The people, mostly daily-wage earners did not pay much heed to the importance of education. Moreover, they stayed away from their homes in search of jobs, as a result of which the children were deprived of basic necessities. “According to documents there were only 40 to 45 students registered in this school, and among them only 10 or 12 students used to be present. Everything was scattered, but somewhere I knew, I had to take a stand. Eventually, I started working on the various aspects of the school curriculum and today I get support from almost everyone, be it the villagers, or the parents, the BDO and the Panchayat. The students also enjoy coming to school and now we have a total of 79 students,” informs Mahato.
Overall, the school is very attractive. A distinctive feature of the school is the well-maintained, clean and green ambience which includes the garden, play area, playground and a vegetable garden. The school practices rainwater harvesting, solid waste management and designs handcraft items made out of waste materials. It consists of a room filled with artefacts which is divided into a library, science laboratory and a primary healthcare centre. “The decorum of the school is maintained by teachers and the students. We also engage local artisans for the artworks displayed in the school. I alongwith, the assistant teacher and the children clean the premises, prepare compost from the solid waste management system, plant trees and cultivate the vegetable garden,” he adds.
The school also has a separate dining area, adjacent to which is the vegetable garden, where vegetables, herbs and plants of various types are sprouted up in sequence. Interestingly, the wash basin is installed according to the height of the students and instructions related to mid-day meals, benefits of washing hands, and use of toilets are amply used and bullet marked on the walls of the school.
“The children here are very active, disciplined and energetic. The environment of the school is child-friendly, hence it allows the children to open up their minds and explore things differently. The students are fond of drawing, singing, dancing. In terms of the basic necessities they have access to RO drinking water and are taught about the five steps of washing hands. Separate toilets for boys and girls are also available with water supply. A weekly menu is prepared and mid-day meals are cooked by the women from Self Help Groups (SHGs), who also take care of hygiene during food preparation,” says Rupali Mahato, Assistant Teacher of Gundlubari Primary School.
Gauri Bauri, a student of fourth standard is fond of her library. “I like reading poems and short stories from the books we have in our library. My favourite subjects are Bengali, Mathematics and English and I aspire to be a Police Officer one day. We encourage our parents and family members to adopt healthy habits and maintain cleanliness like we practice in our school,” she says.
Among the many interesting factors, one of the focal point of the school are the two blue-coloured post boxes installed within the premises. Gopon Kotha (Confidential Matters) and Poramorsho o Abhijog Baksho (suggestion and complaint box) – are the names inscribed in the two boxes. Mahato explains, “The first box (Confidential Matters) is specifically meant for the girls and women — the students, our assistant teacher, the SHG women in our school, or any women from the village who faces any kind of discrimination, be it domestic violence, health issues, sexual harassment, existing in the school or within the area can drop their problems in the box.”
Rupali further states, “I alongwith a student from the child cabinet maintain the confidential box. After due consultation and discussion of various matters with the committee members and the concerned authorities of the school, we finally come to a solution and provide assistance to the victims in whatever way possible.”
The headmaster informs that an issue of domestic violence due to alcoholism was tackled and the information came through the confidential box. Proper counselling was provided to the victim and the family, who are now leading a normal life. Moreover, the timely intervention of women of the village against the spread of alcoholism led to the closure of three liquor shops in the area.
“The other post box is meant for the students and the general public. Here, any kind of suggestion regarding the improvement of the school, infrastructure, curriculum or complaints in case of any mischievous act conducted by the students are reported,” adds Mahato.
The primary school has a “Child Cabinet”, “Mata Siksha Committee”, and “Student Safety and Security Monitoring Committee”. Here each member of the cabinet or the committee has a different role to play. The child cabinet comprises of the Prime Minister, Sports Minister, Food Minister, Education & Environment Minister and Health Minister. They look after the sanitation, sports facility, drinking water facility, midday meal and cleanliness of the institute. Every Saturday, the cabinet meets in the school, where problems are discussed and resolved.
“The child cabinet, is headed by the Prime Minister, who works in close co-ordination with the teachers and together we work for the betterment of the school. The idea behind the child cabinet is to enable the children to gain ideas, acquire leadership quality and inculcate values,” Mahato affirms.
A student of the fourth standard, Prantik Mahato, who happens to be the Prime Minister of the cabinet says, “I am proud of my school. We participate in activities like drawing, painting, singing, dancing, cleaning the premises, gardening, and planting vegetables. Apart from that we discuss different problems and prospects of the school with the teachers and take concrete steps to sort out the matter as soon as possible.”
Pritam Mahato, Sports Minister of the cabinet adds, “I am glad that we can play games like football, volleyball, kabaddi, badminton, and tennis in our school. However, earlier we did not have a playground, so I took the initiative to bring the matter to the cabinet. After consulting with the Prime Minister and our teachers I am fortunate to have a playground now. Though, I will be going to a different school next year, still I will carry the treasure of multiple skills being taught in this school and try to practise the same things which I have gained here.”
The school follows a comprehensive method of engaging the children, parents and the society at large for its overall development. The “Mata Shiksha Committee”, constitutes the mothers of the students, with whom a meeting is organized every month to converse on the problems and development of the students. On the other hand, the “Student Safety and Security Monitoring Committee”, as the name itself suggests, looks after the safety and security of the students and churn out plans to improve the same. This committee consists of an ICDS member, three members of the village on behalf of the guardian of the students, one ASHA worker, the assistant teacher Rupali, and the headmaster as the chairman of the committee.
As apprised by the headmaster, the school committee along with other like minded people takes out rallies, organize seminars and create awareness among the masses on health issues like dengue, malaria and social issues like child marriage. People can also put forward their ideas for consideration in the boxes (Confidential Box and Suggestion Box) and discuss in the monthly meetings. Moreover, going to households, they encourage the people to send their children regularly to school, thereby reducing the percentage of dropouts.
After the reformation of the Gundlubari Primary School, Pratap Mahato, the headmaster, aspires to move to another area called Kula Bahal, Sobor Para, in Purulia District, which comprise of a tribal community known as the Sobor Community and plans to imbibe the values for better education of children and upliftment of society. He winds up by saying, “Though the school has been regarded as Nirmal Vidyalaya, but my aim is to convert the entire village into a Nirmal Village, because until and unless the society is not clean, how can we expect our children to be clean?”
Pursuant to the second edition of the media initiative undertaken by the South Asian Women In Media (SAWM) in collaboration with UNICEF India, a group of journalists visited the Gundlubari Primary School. The purpose of the visit was to explore the model school with WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) facilities, for which they were honoured with the Nirmal Vidyalaya Award.