Dynamism, Dedication and the Vision to Succeed

First published here: http://practiceconnect.azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/2018/07/19/dynamism-dedication-and-the-vision-to-succeed/

Teachers transforming schools: Stories from Karnataka

By: S Giridhar

GHPS Kolur M, Surpur Block, Yadgir District, Karnataka

‘In the clash between community and school, the ones to suffer will only be the children. Please do not bring politics into the school. We will get a good name and your children will do well.’

Ayub Khan is 47 years old. He came to GHPS Kolur as a Head Teacher in July 2013. He has over 25 years of experience, joining the service in 1992 at GHPS Yadgir. He then taught at GHPS Kannelli in the Surpur Block for many years, becoming Head Teacher in 2009. He was the Head Teacher there for nearly four years. Kannelli is a large village and a complex political cauldron. No head teacher has ever wanted to go to the GHPS Kannelli which was not only a large school with 620 children but also a place where there would be no support forthcoming from the community. Invariably, there would either be disillusionment as the teacher would not be able to work effectively in the circumstances, leading to transfers or worse, a suspension. Ayub Khan took over such a school and in the four years that he was there, left an imprint of which he can justifiably be proud.

Therefore, what he is currently achieving in GHPS Kolur, has as its basis in his experience and achievement at Kannelli. At Kannelli, the environment was hostile, teaching and classes were not taken seriously, the midday meal was run inefficiently and there was fear among the teachers.

Ayub set things right, one by one. He held individual and small group meetings meticulously with the teachers and the community. He knew this would be slow and arduous but that was the only way to begin any kind of redemption for GHPS Kannelli. He demonstrated his faith in Kannelli by shifting his home there, moving his family and admitting his own children to the school. By 2010, he was focussing on getting at least some of the children from his school admitted to the Adarsha Vidyalaya1.He was able to get 18 students to apply and qualify for admissions to the Morarji schools2. He also identified one exceptional student for admission to the Navodaya Vidyalaya3. He repeated these efforts in the subsequent years. Ayub received the state government’s ‘Janamechida Shikshakara’ award and his reputation travelled fast. By 2011, his school was recognized as one of the exemplar child-friendly schools. He improved the school environment so much that the school won the ‘Parasaramitra’ award in March 2012.

In 2013, Ayub was transferred to GHPS, Kolur. This too is a large school with around 500 students and when Ayub arrived there, the school had just three teachers and the Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) presented a daunting situation. The sorry state of affairs became clearer when he realised that the average attendance was a pathetic 30%, with only 160 out of 494 enrolled children attending regularly. Ayub knew that here too, the first thing he must do was to establish a direct connection with the community and a bond with his teachers. Once again, in a demonstration of his commitment to Kolur, he moved his family to Kolur and admitted his two children in GHPS, Kolur. In this challenging assignment, Ayub knew he needed trustworthy allies and so he got a couple of key people on his side. Siddharam, an old colleague and a loyal lieutenant was one of them; the other was Mallikarjun, a teacher at Kolur since 2002 who had also studied in this school and had an emotional bond with the school. Ayub knew that it was Mallikarjun’s first appointment and he quickly co-opted the young man in his mission to turnaround the fortunes of GHPS, Kolur.

Ayub identified some key things to do – to build energy in the school and earn the faith of the community. He organized a mela on the ‘Constitution of India’ based on the suggestion by the Azim Premji Foundation. He had seen the power of these school melas which the Foundation had encouraged schools in Surpur to organize regularly since 2008. The mela brought teachers, students and the community together and was a wonderful opportunity for the school to demonstrate to the community the learning and the progress of their children. He asked his teachers to contact parents and request them to contribute some funds according to their capacity. It was a major communication exercise and they collected nearly Rs 55,000. The Zilla Panchayat President and the Surpur MLA also visited. People were proud of what the school had been able to organize. The school had united the community.

Ayub held meetings with teachers to analyse the levels of learning of the children, their attendance patterns and if they had support at home. The teachers took their responsibility. Ayub was also able to get teachers from Doddaballapur and Mandya to come to his school because he felt that they would help coach children better for admissions to Navodaya Vidyalayas, Adarsha Vidyalaya and the Morarji schools. They obviously did drill and practice around MCQs and mental ability tests that are a standard feature of the admission tests but this was done meaningfully as there was a goal. Teacher Mallikarjun feels that the school lacked leadership and coordination sorely. But now there was urgency, goal and purpose. Planned teacher review meetings, student progress reviews, informal but daily assessment of students; periodic update to parents about their children’s progress and encouraging them to take interest in their child’s education became regular features and the morning assembly, which is an important part of the school day was held on time, with all teachers and children participating.

Ayub was one of the most conscientious teachers when the Azim Premji Foundation ran the Child-Friendly School Program in Surpur. He acknowledges that during the years he was at Kannelli, he learnt a number of aspects of school management as well as the potential of Nali-Kali4 if the pedagogy was implemented in the manner it was designed. After attending the School LeadershipDeputy Director of Public Instructions and Development Program (SLDP) conducted by the Foundation, Ayub as part of his project work for the course implemented a project to create an effective school library and a design for remedial teaching for students.

Ayub was constantly navigating the problematic, politically volatile community. He repeatedly told them, ‘In the clash between community and school, the ones to suffer will only be the children. Please do not bring politics into the school. We will get a good name and your children will do well.’ Ayub ensured that all the school finances were transparent and he shared photocopies of the School bank passbook and cheques issued so that the community knew where the school was spending its money.

Ayub also pressed all the right buttons. Given the large presence of the Valmiki community, he organized Valmiki Jayanti, for which he got the school cleaned and spruced-up and the community appreciated the gesture. He also organized a public event to honour his teachers who completed 12 years in the school and did this in great style by also inviting their spouses so that they would also share the pride that came from the recognition.

The attendance at the school has gradually risen from 160 in 2013, year on year to 200, 250, and 300 and now in 2017 is upwards of 350 students. Students who had earlier quit the school (taken their Transfer Certificate) have started coming back. Ayub feels that in the last few years, he has become more confident and fearless; he assumes a complete ownership of the school and has a good team. In 2016, Ayub received the district ‘Uttamashikshara Puraskar’. The reputation of Kolur and the story of its impressive turnaround has spread beyond Surpur. So much so that the BEO of the neighbouring block of Shahpur has asked head teachers in his Block to visit GHPS, Kolur and observe Ayub and the manner in which he leads the school. GHPS, Kolur is now a model school.

GHPS Gedhalamari, Surpur Block, Yadgir District, Karnataka

‘Around 50 children have been selected for Morarji schools in the last seven years since I came here and around three children also qualify for the Navodaya schools every year,’ says Sangaiah, the Head Teacher.

Head Teacher, Sangaiah is a fascinating man. He joined the Education Department service in 1992 after completing his PUC and ITC, a teacher training certification. His first posting (for six years till 1998) was at GLPS, Hanumasagara. He then moved to GHPS, Balashettihalli and was there for eleven years. Since 2010, he is at GHPS, Gedhalamari as the Head Teacher. Over the years, his work has been recognized and rewarded – ‘Best Teacher in the District’ award in 2010, followed by the ‘Best Teacher in Karnataka State’ award in 2015. He was among the eight teachers nominated by the state to present their experiences at the National Teachers Conference organized by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in Bhubaneswar.

Gedhalamari is a largish village with around two thousand people, most of who belong to the SC/ST community. The GHPS Gedhalamari has 341 children enrolled – 137 girls and 204 boys. Like many villages in this region, Gedhalamari is beset with social issues such as the prevalence of child marriage and the impact of sibling-care on the schooling of girls, to name a few. The ratio of girls and boys is nearly the same till Class IV, but around the age of nice, the girls start dropping out. Sangaiah is determined to get this gender ratio equal.

The attendance in school is 90% on most days and one of the ways he drives this is by entrusting his teachers with the task of personally following up with parents if a child is absent. Sangaiah has ensured that all teachers have the mobile phone number of every parent. Teachers call up the parent if a child is absent and the class teacher along with the Physical Education teacher visits them and also informs the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) President, Sangaiah.

Sangaiah also sets the example for punctuality and regularity by being in school every day at sharp 9.15 am and leaving only at 6 pm for his home which is a motorbike drive of 15 kilometres.

Renuka, a teacher who has been at the school since 2004 believes that Sangaiah has come there with a goal. She says that it is only in the last six years that changes have taken place. She lists these – better infrastructure; refurbished classrooms; a stage that was on the verge of collapse, rebuilt; and the culture of absolute punctuality established. After seeing the quality of the building that was constructed under Sangaiah’s eagle eye, the progressive BEO of Surpur Block, Santha Gowda, sanctioned four more rooms. In the early days at GHPS Gedhalamari, the life for Sangaiah revolved 24X7 around the school.

Sangaiah wants this school to become a model school. He has identified the key elements that he will concentrate on: good infrastructure, an attractive garden, maximum attendance of children, punctuality of teachers and all-around learning levels of the children. While significant improvement in infrastructure has been achieved, Sangaiah feels good that there are also signs that learning levels are improving. ‘Around 50 children have been selected for Morarji Schools in the last seven years since I came here and around three children also qualify every year for the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya,’ he tells us.

All these achievements and improvement are visible to the community and as a result, parents have responded by moving their children from the nearby, Bhoruka Steel Private School to this school. The people from the neighbouring villages too noticed the way GHPS Gedhalamari is functioning and moved their children there.

‘It is very important that we are able to demonstrate the quality of our school, the capability of our teachers and the children to the Block Education Officer and the community. I did this by organizing Learning Mela, taking forward the idea of the school mela that has been popularised by the Azim Premji Foundation’s Child-Friendly School Program. The support of the SDMC is very critical in these efforts.’ Sangaiah has a long association with the Foundation and interestingly, has attended almost all the key school leadership programs conducted by the Foundation in Surpur. At the same time, his deep interest in child-learning and pedagogy is reflected in his whole-hearted participation in the Nali-Kali training program conducted by the Foundation when the Education Department decided to implement this multi-grade, multi-level teaching pedagogy in Surpur.

While Sangaiah is the driving force behind the transformation at this school, equally critical and noteworthy is the team-work among the five teachers here. Mallappa, the PT teacher and Manjunath who teaches the junior classes using the Nali-Kali pedagogy, both joined the school in 2010. Renuka has been the longest at this school (over 12 years) and she works closely with Manjunath in teaching classes I-III with the Nali-Kali methodology. Ambarish who teaches classes VI-VIII joined the school recently in 2016 while Manjunath D has been at this school since 2008 and teaches class V-VI. These five teachers have formed an excellent support team to help Sangaiah in his ambitious plans.

Sangaiah is particular that he and his teachers constantly learn and develop themselves. So, one will find the teachers of GHPS Gedhalamari, regularly attending the meetings of the Voluntary Teachers Forum (VTF) and also visiting the Teaching-Learning Centre (TLC) that has been established by the Azim Premji Foundation. The school has an active science lab and very relevant teaching-learning material. Much of this has been helped by the teachers’ participation in the TLC and discussions in the VTF. In fact, Sangaiah’s school has hosted four meetings of the VTF in the last 18 months. It is interesting to note that all the teachers play badminton with children from 4.30 to 6 in the evening after school. The importance given to physical education is evident from the fact that GHPS Gedhalamari qualifies and participates at the district level competitions in kho-kho, throwball and kolaata.

Sangaiah says, ‘On Saturdays, I concentrate on administrative stuff, data and paperwork. Nothing is a problem or tension. My colleagues share these administrative responsibilities and this enables me to get time to be an active teacher and teach Science and Kannada in classes V-VII.’ The only difficulty is the adverse Pupil-Teacher Ratio in the school because vacancies created by the recent transfers of teachers have not been filled.

The school where he was earlier had also participated in the Azim Premji Foundation’s Learning Guarantee Program (LGP) but did not qualify for an award. The enrolment was huge but they had inadequate teaching staff and could not do well. However, in Gedhalamari, Sangaiah says the picture is already different. When the recent Karnataka Schools Quality Assessment Organisation (KSQAO) assessment was conducted, the external observer told Sangaiah that he had not seen such an environment or such responses from children and the reason for this according to Sangaiah, is the emphasis that is laid to the foundational learning in classes I-III, which is critical. ‘In our school by class III every child is able to read and write and I think we use Nali-Kali in the best possible manner. I also think our 30-minute morning assembly plays a vital role. The quiz is a major feature of the daily assembly.’ Those who have had the opportunity to observe the assembly at GHPS Gedhalamari will agree. Each class takes turns to conduct the morning assembly and the effort made to ensure that every child has the opportunity to participate, be it reading from a textbook or newspaper or answering questions. The quiz on Friday is special with three prizes that are given by the community.

One realises how inspirational Sangaiah is when one hears other head teachers in Surpur Block say that they want to emulate what Sangaiah has achieved. In the immediate vicinity of Gedhalamari itself, around four to five schools have sent their teachers to observe and learn from this school. When such visitors come and ask Sangaiah and his colleagues for advice, their suggestions are simple (a) focus on the basics: infrastructure, attendance, punctuality and learning; (b) work as a team keeping the quality of education of the child at the core of everything (c) be completely transparent and clean in every transaction and spend every paisa scrupulously. Sangaiah’s parting words as one takes leave are, ‘I am confident my school will be among the top ten in the Surpur Taluk. I do not want the girl children to drop out at any cost. The ratio is 35:65 now but I will bring it to 50:50 in a few years. This is a remote and very disadvantaged area, but we will make this a model school.’

GMPS Hunusigi (Town), Surpur Block, Yadgir District, Karnataka

‘… more important is our own self-assessment. We must be able to see for ourselves that our processes are effective and meaningful through the year rather than a once a year external assessment….’

Systems and institutions are not inanimate, monolithic structures but living, changing, growing and even decaying entities for the simple reason that these are, in effect, the people who comprise them. In a unit like a school, it is often the head teacher or a dynamic, passionate teacher who creates a wonderful institution. Unfortunately, if that key person goes away, the institution also struggles to sustain its pace of improvement.

Dundappa Kolkar, the Head Teacher of GMPS Hunusigi is a 55-year-old veteran who joined the Education Department in 1982. A native of Bijapur, he has virtually spent his entire career in Surpur Taluk, across three schools – GHPS, Yedalabhavi (1983-2006) where he was also the head teacher; as Cluster Resource Person (CRP) (2006-2012) and at GHPS Devatkal (from 2012-2016) as Head Teacher. And now, as what might well be his last stint in service, he is the Head Teacher at GMPS Hunusigi.

During his 23 years at Yedalabhavi, he became a legendary figure among the local community. When he arrived there in 1983, there was a school only in name. He started the school in a temple in the village with about ten children and the school register was in the custody of the village Gowder, the agricultural landlord. Till 1988, this is how the Yedalabhavi School was run. The Gowder impressed by Dundappa dedication donated land for the school and the Mandal panchayat sanctioned funds for construction of a school building of 1200 square feet. As the children started coming in, a second teacher was appointed. Soon around 60 children from the 45 households in the village were enrolled and regularly attending school. The Tahsildar sanctioned more land for the school, and the villagers agreed to the housing land being given for what they understood now as a good cause, a school building for their children.

This piece of land was rocky with boulders jutting out. The people of the village were very poor and all they could contribute to it was physical labour – ‘shram-daan’ as Dundappa put it, to help level the land and build the compound wall. Dundappa planted trees around the school at different stages of its development, from the time the Gowder first gave the piece of land. It is very interesting to see the trees at different heights that also indicate the stages of growth of the school. As the school got on a steady footing with the two teachers able to ensure that the children were learning well, they also started focussing on sports. The children of Yedalabhavi became so proficient at Kabaddi and Kho-kho that they qualified through Cluster and Block level inter-school competitions to reach the District level competition.

In 1992, the school added classes VI and VII to become an upper primary school. The six-seven tribal hamlets in the vicinity also began sending their children to the school. By 2002, there were 220 children at GHPS Yadalabhavi. Dundappa remembers the Learning Guarantee Program that the Azim Premji Foundation and the state government ran in 2002-05 in north-east Karnataka and even today regrets that he was on leave when the applications were sought from schools for their voluntary participation.

When we ask Dundappa to review those early years and how he envisioned the creation of a thriving upper primary school in 15 years, starting as he did with a ten-pupil school in a temple, he puts it very simply, ‘I think there were two primary reasons. One was the relationship and trust established with the community; the other reason was the visible effects of our teaching on the children. The parents were illiterate but they could see that their children were learning. They have always seen me at the school from 8 am to 7 pm and also how I have conducted a lot of activities and sports every evening for the children. I would bring artists and musicians to the school. So, the school became a cultural hub too and children began learning these things in addition to their classroom learning.’

After he left in 2006 to become a CRP, his replacement proved to be of one of less mettle. Several unfortunate events involving violence occurred, one being a clash between the community and teachers, and very quickly, the spirit of GHPS Yedalabhavi was broken. It has taken time to mend and once again it needed a good teacher to lead it to good times. The school has 217 children but only three teachers, the Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) of 70:1 is inimical to any good learning. Bespectacled 41-year-old Basavaraj Neelgar, who joined the school in 2015, is the person trying to bring the school back on track. As a first step, he has been able to get the Block office to sanction a guest teacher and hopes to get a second guest teacher. This will improve the PTR and with that Basavaraj hopes, the first thing that will improve is the Nali-Kali teaching for classes I-III.

And Dundappa now is in-charge at GMPS Hunusigi for just over one year. He inherited a run-down school; the community was hostile and the earlier Head Teacher had left the place in desperation. Dundappa saw that the school had enough physical space and also a building, although old and run-down. He sensed the hostile environment and the divisive politics in the community. The school premises were being used not only for social events like marriages and to park tractors but also by anti-social elements. These adverse circumstances only increased his determination to set things right.

When he got down to work, the first step was to invite the top boss of the District Education Department – the DDPI5 – to visit the school and see for himself the condition of the school and the kind of things the school premises were being used for. He also made sure some key people from the community were present during the DDPI’s visit. Throughout that visit, Dundappa kept repeating: ‘This school started in 1943, look how pathetic it has become. We should take some pride and ownership of such an old school.’ The school had some unused funds in its account and he got the DDPI to sanction those. He built a gate as a sign that people could not just enter the school premises and use it as their personal property. His next step was to mobilize support and funds to demolish the dilapidated building and construct a new one with sufficient rooms. For this, he received the support not only from the DDPI and the Block Education Officer but also from the Zilla Panchayat and the PWD.

Once he had the funds, Dundappa wasted no time in constructing a fine new building. He says that transparency and putting up all the accounts publicly for the community’s scrutiny is a very powerful way to build trust. He knew that over the past ten years, school funds had not been used properly – sanctioned funds were not utilised nor were proper records of expenditure maintained. Around six lakh rupees of the sanctioned funds had lapsed while the facilities were allowed to fall into ruins. And therefore, now that he was turning the school around, he ensured that all the accountsDeputy Director of Public InstructionsDeputy Director of Public Instructions – inflows and expenditure were available for any member of the community to scrutinise.

With this trust, he could create a new SDMC by holding a meeting with all parents and empowering them to elect the members. He staved off attempts by the MLA and the Gram Panchayat to plant their nominees. Dundappa developed a three-year plan with the newly formed SDMC and placed before the community a request for funds to construct toilets, repairs of the compound wall and name board for the school. While doing all this Dundappa was very firm that on no account would they bring politics inside the school. It is interesting to note that the composition of the 370 children at this school includes 140 from the SC and ST, 48 Muslims and around 50 from the OBCs. However, there are none from the Lingayat community who comprise a large proportion of the community. These children study at the ten to twelve private schools in the town.

Having set in motion actions to address infrastructure, Dundappa turned his attention to getting additional teachers for the school. He has been remarkably successful in this – he got four teachers posted to the school apart from also getting three guest teachers. Only one vacancy remains to be filled now. With ten teachers in his team and a PTR of around 35:1, Dundappa began to concentrate on raising the quality of education in the school. Dundappa believes that the Nali-Kali pedagogy if carried on well in the early classes, can be very helpful in preparing children to learn well. He, therefore, supervised classes I-III very closely. He is planning to add a fourth section and integrate the three classes into these four sections.

Dundappa has instituted a system of a formal monthly meeting of teachers where they discuss and reflect on their experiences of that month. The key issues faced and the possible solutions are discussed and agreed upon during these meetings. Dundappa has been able to persuade teachers to do one ‘demo’ class every month where the other teachers can suggest improvements; and formal reviews with all the teachers to discuss how the lesson plans are executed; which portions take more time; and which topics or aspects are difficult for the children. Dundappa – with the full cooperation of his teachers – has created a format for teachers to fill in all these details so that these can be discussed with a view to improving the quality of teaching.

Dundappa, as he recalls, has an association with the Azim Premji Foundation from the time the Learning Guarantee Program was launched in north-east Karnataka after the Child-Friendly School Program was launched in 2004, the association became stronger. Dundappa has attended every major School Leadership Program organized by the Foundation. Being a hands-on teacher, Dundappa has also attended the Nali-Kali training with the strong conviction that if done right, the pedagogy would be of immense help.

Dundappa is candid when he says that he can still focus only on achieving the competencies in reading, writing, comprehension and numbers. Children, even in classes VI to VIII, are not able to read and write and do basic arithmetic. Dundappa identifies such children and runs a special program during the summer holidays, which he ‘Parihara Bodhana Summer Camp’. He wants to try and create some special classes during the school term too to provide additional support to such children. These efforts are perhaps the most important for Dundappa, ‘The children coming to our school are really vulnerable and it is our duty to focus on them; only we can help them.’

Like most head teachers, he wants his school performance in the KSQAO assessment to improve but at the same time, he says, ‘Even more important is our own self-assessment. We must be able to see for ourselves that our processes are effective and meaningful, through the year rather than a once in a year external assessment like the KSQAO.’

Dundappa does not go home before 7.30 pm and spends the time from 4.30 pm to compile and update all administrative information. If a visitor observes him during an entire day at school, one will notice that he is on his feet all the time, going around classrooms, a friendly hand here or an empathetic support there. For all his dynamism and the pressure, he exerts on his teachers, Dundappa is also considerate. He says without being judgmental, ‘Of the ten teachers in my school, two or three are low on energy. But my job is to encourage them, build their morale and carry them along.’

*These essays are part of a forthcoming book (2019).

S Giridhar, COO, Azim Premji University

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