Vidya Gyan has visited several dozen rural government primary schools in the past several years. The experience has been very telling of the environment which is anything but conducive to learning. A government school now exists practically in every village and the central government funds provide free lunch, textbooks, and dresses for each student. However, the infrastructure is often dilapidated, no furniture for children, the playground is a rarity, the libraries are almost non-existent and the teaching and learning aids are in short supply. The students attending these schools are generally from families in the lower-income strata and mostly underserved. The quality of education is perceived to be “poor,” not too far from the truth although not all schools are equal because there are many committed teachers.
Vidya Gyan’s “Adopt a School” initiative is aimed at making select schools more conducive to learning by providing resources. We have visited numerous schools to seek and assess teachers’ commitment to Vidya Gyan’s Savings to Secure, to learn the profile of pupils, and to seek better engagement with parents and community. Qualitatively, we found that the quality of education is directly related to teachers’ engagement and trust with the community.
A proposal process was developed in which the schools requested and justified resources such as classroom furniture, library materials, playground, projector, and other resources. Vidya Gyan’s first commitment has been in providing classroom furniture as a token of restoring the dignity of children and other resources as funds become available.
Building Pride: In contemporary India, most villages have both the government and private schools, the latter being better furnished but beyond the reach of underprivileged families due to high tuition and fees. The children in government schools don’t stop being perceptive and feel the difference such as classroom furniture, better learning aids, and sports equipment. VG saw the necessity of an improved learning environment and initiated the Adopt A School project aimed at the following:
- Classroom Furniture: Initially Vidya Gyan had budgeted to provide classroom furniture for 4-5 schools which miraculously climbed to 21. How? VG’s quest for partnership led to a conversation with a village head (Pradhan) about 50/50 expenditure and he agreed. Subsequently, we cultivated a strategic “Partnership with Pradhan” model in furnishing the remaining 17 schools. These partnerships are gamechanger; a gradual but deeper engagement of Pradhans with the school. They recognized that the school bears the name of the village and educating children must be the foremost objective. VG is now promoting, “Our School Our Pride,” to inculcate pride among all stakeholders. Many schools have a facelift; painted walls, front gates for security, toilets, and the overall cleanliness. Children being perceptive told us in a survey that they don’t have to take out shoes, can read and write comfortably, feel like being in a private school, and attend school more regularly.
- Library for Learning: We had a rude awakening that most children in schools had not seen/read children storybooks. That led to our decision of including a steel cabinet for a library and giving over 100 children books, chosen by teachers, to more than a dozen schools. Our expectation is that every grade children are taken to the library at least once a week and allowed to borrow a book. Most teachers are fearful that students may lose and/or damaged books. VG emphasized that children are children and no teacher will be held accountable if some books are lost/torn. Interestingly, now the Government is providing Rs. 5000 to each school to buy additional books.
Vidya Gyan plans to provide furniture and other resources with a long-term strategy to build a climate of better learning. We also hope that the neighboring schools will be encouraged to seek resources from Vidya Gyan thus fostering a spirit of competition toward community building and better learning environments.