An excerpt from ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teachers: The Heroes of Real India’ by S Giridhar.

How a Ktaka teacher battled false accusations and hostility to turn his school around
news Book excerpt Tuesday, February 18, 2020 - 16:01

‘I will quit if the school does not get a filtered drinking water unit.’

Basavagowda, Government Higher Primary School, Hunasugi Camp, Surpur Block, Yadgir District, Karnataka

This is a story of incorruptibility, determination and courage. Basavagowda Chowdhary is forty-seven years old and joined the education department in 1997 at GHPS, Halepet in the Shahpur block of what was then Gulbarga district. The initial years in that school were a period of immense learning for him. In 2002, Basavagowda became the acting head teacher at the same school. Halepet comprised of poor people from mostly the Muslim community. It was at Halepet in those early years that Basavagowda realised the importance of working closely with the community and also the necessity of showing them what their children were learning at school.

After twelve years at Halepet, when he came to GHPS, Hunasugi in 2009, Basavagowda was immediately faced with a series of exigent challenges. There were four hundred students in seven classes with eight teachers. There were four vacancies. The school was poorly managed and he was quick to notice that the staff was lazy. The environment was hostile with a disgruntled colleague also plotting to trip him up.

The challenge before him was enormous but Basavagowda decided to take it head on. Step one of his strategy was to move his home close to the school. This enabled him to be at the school every morning by 8 a.m. to confront the problems of absenteeism, irregularity, poorly managed assembly, and the staff’s complete disinterest in the functioning of the school. He insisted that every teacher be present at the morning assembly. The next thing he knew, there was a formal complaint registered against him for embezzlement of funds meant for the school and midday meals. He had to face the ignominy of the police coming to school to question him. Basava told the police to go to his house and search it in his absence. It was his way of telling them that he was innocent and being framed. Once he got a clean chit from the police, he did not let this pass. He insisted that they investigate those who had complained against him and sought a DDPI-level inquiry into the incident. In November 2009, it was established that the disgruntled teachers had made the mischievous and completely baseless complaint against him and they were transferred. New teachers were appointed in their place.

The community now saw through the politics that was being played by the earlier set of teachers and how the children were the ones who had suffered; it was their education that had been affected. They realised that Basavagowda meant well and everything that he was doing was to get the quality of education in the school back on track. They also saw him as a courageous and upright man who meant business and backed him in improving the school. Having earned the community’s support, Basava proceeded to the next stage of his school improvement plan. He obtained a drinking water facility—a tank with 2000-litre storage—through the Panchayat. He got the rooms that were being used as dump yards for old and useless furniture, cleared out so they could be used as classrooms. He then added more classrooms with the available budget. As a result of these additions, he could use one of the rooms for the midday meal. He also had functional toilets constructed.

Having improved basic infrastructure and shown the community that their trust was well-placed, Basavagowda decided to address the issue of political interference in the running of the school. Hitherto, local political leaders had nominated the SDMC president but Basavagowda put his foot down and insisted that only parents could elect this officer. This was a crucial challenge but he won the round because of the goodwill and trust he had earned in the community.

Basavagowda now set his sights on the quality of children’s learning. With clear expectations and suggestions, he organised his teachers to ensure that they give maximum attention to learning in their classrooms. The learning levels improved and we could see this clearly in the manner in which they responded, asked questions and came up with interesting observations while talking with us. From our discussions in the classrooms, it was evident that they held no fear of exams. Basavagowda has prepared motivational videos to show his students how children who started quite poorly have become competent and capable. He has set up a library in the school and the children are encouraged to borrow books, read and share their thoughts in the school assembly. He has organised his classes in a manner that the Keli-Kali radio programme is used effectively. The teachers maintain a progress portfolio of each child and assign projects to students to encourage them to explore and learn from their local environment. Every year, at least ten students from this school clear the entrance examination for the Morarji School. Basavagowda who tracks the students who pass out from his school tells us that the SSLC (Class X Board examination) toppers of the taluk and the district have passed out of GHPS, Hunasugi.

The all-round development of the children is a goal Basavagowda has been devoted to. He says, ‘Just a day spent observing the children closely is enough to spot some talent in each child. It is the duty of the school to nurture a child’s talent to its full potential.’ It is with this spirit that GHPS, Hunasugi prepares its children and participates in state education department-run events such as ‘Pratibha Karanji’, ‘Kalikotsava’ and sports. In all these, GHPS, Hunasugi has qualified right up to the district finals. The school has also received the ‘Parisara Snehi’ (Literally, ‘environment-loving’ school) award for its efforts towards environmental protection.

Basavagowda credits all these achievements to his teachers, ‘I am very happy with my teachers. They are extremely conscientious. For example, Irakka, the teacher responsible for Nali-Kali provides an excellent language and comprehension foundation for children in Classes I to III. Sunitha, the science teacher; Suvarna, the social science teacher; Geetha, the language teacher, are all doing a fine job.’ He has instituted a system of regular teacher meetings. When he first established this process, he had insisted on meetings every week, now he has eased this to fortnightly meetings. Professionally conducted, these meetings have a clear agenda, a review of the previous meeting and documentation of the minutes, actions and next steps. I had the opportunity to peruse the register that the school maintains and it is obvious that the diligence and seriousness of these meetings are being maintained. The teachers as a group, review lesson plans and exam preparations. They hold bi-monthly meetings with parents to apprise them of their children’s progress.

In the past few years, the school has also organised a series of melas to demonstrate to the community the abilities of their children. An ‘environment mela’ was followed by a ‘science mela’ with the whole-hearted participation and involvement of the community. Some of the members were so astonished to see the children from their village demonstrate such acuity in describing concepts that they asked if the children had been brought from the nearby private schools for the mela! The school’s achievements and activities are now also discussed in the Panchayat.

The current strength at GHPS, Hunasugi is four hundred and sixty-two and there are thirteen teachers. The average attendance on most days is more than 85 per cent. The private schools in the vicinity of this school are shutting down as parents are shifting their children here. Basavagowda is currently pushing for a filtered drinking water unit for the school and is threatening to quit if the community and the Panchayat do not accede to this request!

Amidst all this, Basavagowda has also remained a continuous learner. Having become computer literate, he has encouraged three of his teachers to also learn and become proficient in the use of computers. He has attended the School Leadership Development Programme conducted by the Foundation and found it very helpful. His teachers too have followed in his footsteps and are all active participants in the Voluntary Teacher Forum (VTF) and workshops conducted by the Foundation. They are regular visitors to the Teacher Learning Centre (TLC) at Kakkera where they receive suggestions and ideas for creating suitable materials for classroom transactions. As a result of their regular interactions at the TLC, they also avail the various materials, books and equipment available there. Irakka, the teacher who uses the Nali-Kali pedagogy in Classes I to III was adjudged the ‘Best Nali-Kali Teacher’ in Surpur in 2011.

Full of energy and ideas, Basavagowda is now also embarking on a personal initiative to begin an ‘unofficial’ LKG and UKG with exposure to English for the children of the village. He is putting his own money into this for a stunningly simple reason that he shares with me. He too came from abject poverty wearing patched clothes till high school but education helped him climb out of that poverty and he wants the children of Hunasugi to have the opportunity to defeat the dire circumstances they are born into. Hence, this ‘pre-Class I’ initiative for children to get into the school-going habit early. He tells us that he started on a monthly salary of Rs 1,100, which has now risen to Rs 35,000. He feels he has enough and can spare some of his earnings towards this initiative. He also has ten to twelve acres of farmland to augment his income, which is all the more reason, he says for him to give.

Basavagowda says that the one thing that rankles is that the school got a B+ rating in the KSQAAC assessment of 2016. Not happy with it, he says, ‘My ambition is to make Hunasugi GHPS a Model School.’ This is the next goal of this determined and indomitable school head.

An excerpt from ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teachers: The Heroes of Real India’ by S Giridhar. He is the Chief Operating Officer of  Azim Premji University.

This excerpt has been published with permission from the author and publisher Westland. 

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