This is from a school in Sukma, a district located on the southern tip of Chhattisgarh.
Sukma is well known for its dense forest and tribal culture. Before I came here, I had a visual of a school in my mind – with a big gate at the entrance, children standing in assembly line one after another at a one hand distance, dressed in blue uniform, chanting the morning prayer. Then they would go to their respective classes and every class teacher would take attendance before starting the session. At lunch time, they would play in the ground. I also imagined a designated period for games in which they would play Cricket, Run and Chase or just relax. I had this visual because I have been a part of this kind of school.
But when I saw the school here, it was between the farm fields. Behind the school, I could see the mountains at a distance. There was no big gate at the entrance. Children were sitting on the stairs in front of the classrooms, waiting for the teacher to come. They were in everyday clothes, barefoot and a Jhola hanging on their shoulders. I started wandering around the school to see more.
There were buildings, one open for children and another one, abandoned. I entered the abandoned building and found that there were three rooms which used to be the classrooms earlier but now they were not in great condition. The ceiling was damaged and the floor had holes in it. The building must be atleast 50 years old and had dilapidated over time.
As I walked towards the other building, I heard children shouting “Good morning ma’am”. I also greeted her and asked when the other teachers would be coming. She told that she is the only teacher here, and immediately asked children to assemble in a straight line as per their height, starting from the shortest to the tallest. I was wondering how a single teacher can manage five classes, and that maybe, she is the only teacher here, today. The collective voice of the teacher and students singing the National Anthem distracted me, and with that, the assembly was over.
When I entered the classroom, children were sitting in a semi-circle, on a grey carpet, facing the ragged blackboard on the wall and chattering in their tribal language, Dhruba. The walls were covered with learning charts.
There were two classrooms in the school, one for 1st-2nd standards and the other for 3rd to 5th standards. But since there’s only one teacher, she can’t be in both the classrooms at the same time. Nor can she teach them the same topic in one class because they all have different levels of understanding. I directly asked her how she had been managing the classes.
“It’s not about management, I’m not sure why the administration is not sending more teachers here. Imagine if I have something important or an emergency, and I have to take a day off, then what will the children do that day without me”.The teacher responded.
In such circumstances, would one be able to manage their own well-being and ensure giving the best to the students. It was almost lunch time now. The children were helping the cook (an old lady) in preparing the mid-day-meal. Out of curiosity, I went into the kitchen. There were vessels lying beside the earthen stove, a cauldron kept on it and the lady rolling the ladle inside the cauldron. Children were playing with each other. As soon as the food got ready, they ran to get their plates, served themselves in the kitchen, and came under the Mahua tree to sit in a circle facing each other.
Post lunch, children started playing Kho-Kho. I was surprised to see how they exactly knew the dimensions of the field and rules of the game. They divided themselves into two teams and I joined them. It was a long time since I had played the game and it was interesting to listen to the rules from the students. They made an effort to explain the game to me in Hindi, instead of their own language.
After school, they took me for a trip to their village and excitedly started telling me all about it – trees, river and stories heard from the elders. We both were teaching each other, unknowingly. I got to learn about the forest from them, and they learnt a few Hindi words (names of trees, insects, animals, birds and fruits) from me. While I was coming back to school with them, I learned that there are other ways to teach kids, to give them the space to express themselves. We need to understand them and their learning styles.
If one tells you to imagine a fruit without any shape, would you be able to imagine it? That’s what I did. I imagined a school and thought that to be the only way a school can exist. But coming here changed my entire perspective. From being a student in a school a few years back to now a teacher, I’ve begun to understand the challenges a teacher faces and how a school function.
I realized that learning is not just limited to a classroom and textbooks. There is a lot to learn outside the classroom as well. Wherever I go, no matter what the situation is, I get to learn something or the other.