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Posted at: Dec 3, 2017, 12:36 AM; last updated: Dec 3, 2017, 12:36 AM (IST)

Lessons in primary education from Punjab hinterland

Rachna Khaira in Jalandhar
Lessons in primary education from Punjab hinterland
Students play ludo on an iron board with dices tipped with magnets at Rully village in Mansa.
Government primary schools generally don’t make the cut for the overweening parents wanting to send their children to ‘quality’ schools. Nor does the government look serious about improving the standards in these schools. That’s perhaps the reason why the Punjab government in October decided to close 800 such schools each having less than 20 students. These schools are proposed to be merged with nearby schools located within a radius of 1 km.

There could be a few exceptions: 

Walk down the semi-paved Dona Nanaka village in district Fazilka, hardly 500 metres from the Pakistan border. Listen to the children reciting ‘paharas’ (tables) inside their primary school situated on the banks of the Sutlej. The school is known as ‘pahareyaan waala school’ (the school of multiplication tables). The classrooms are fitted with LED projectors. A few children are listening to the recorded speech of Ivanka Trump, the daughter and advisor to US President Donald Trump. 

“The villagers are poor, and we do not have an NRI in the area. The teachers with the support from the government have transformed the school into a dream world for the kids,” says Luvjeet Grewal, head teacher who was conferred a national award in 2017. 

In 2006, the school had only two classrooms. With little aid from the state government, it managed to construct five well-furnished classrooms, a multipurpose gym, a modular kitchen and separate classrooms for girls and boys. Recently it bought a power generator set. The school does not have public transport and no approach road. Frequent floods are yet another damper.

“The daily attendance of children was very low a few years ago. Now, the school has over 236 students from four villages — Mahatam Nagar, Ram Singh Waala, Hasta Kalan and Teja Rohilla. The school’s rising popularity has led to the closure of a private school in a nearby village,” says Grewal.

The school added yet another feather in its cap last year:  most schoolchildren have learnt the multiplication table up to 2100. Some children take a mere six to eight seconds to chant multiplication table of 8, 27, 143, 274 and also 1932! 

‘Magic walls’

Move to Rully village situated near the Haryana border in Mansa district . The government primary school has filled colours in the lives of children by upgrading the infrastructure. Amarjit Singh Chahal, primary teacher, says one day when he was teaching his students about the whale “I told them that a whale could be as long as 40 feet. They asked me to explain the distance of 40 feet. When I told them that it is the distance from our school to the nearby river, they began to laugh and said that I was lying,” said Chahal. Ashamed at not been able to clear the concept, Chahal got a TV and a DVD player to the classroom the next day. “I showed them the actual whale.”

“Their curiosity and happiness was enough for us to improve the infrastructure further,” says Chahal. The teachers here have not restricted themselves to blackboards. The walls of the schools are a pictorial representation of whatever is taught. The school boasts of well-furnished smart classrooms with a U-shaped sitting arrangement to enable one-to-one communication, Punjab’s first e-library, a multipurpose shed and a new education park.

Traffic rules

When Jagtar Singh joined the government primary school at Manela  village  in Fatehgarh Sahib in 2015, the school was in a shambles. “The school, constructed in 1867, was declared unsafe in 2012. The villagers used the encroached land as a common garbage dump. The children had to sit outside in the playground,” says Singh. 

The school staff ran an awareness drive and urged the villagers to vacate the land. It tasted success and used Rs 2.5 lakh from the MP local area development fund to construct two classrooms. It has LED-fitted three classrooms and a good library. 

The unique project of the school is the traffic park where original traffic light signal was installed with road signs and zebra crossing painted on a road. The school has also constructed a 3D Bhakra dam project model. 

“Parents appearing in a driving test, too, come to the traffic park for coaching. Our children teach them traffic rules,” says Jagtar Singh who has received a state award without any nomination from his side. 

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