Strengthening rural schools

Munusamy Raviraaj

kalanjiyam-1 A news report on Makkal Television on July 23rd 2008 reported that government schools in Tiruchi district were closing down due to lack of resources and declining strength. On hearing this, we at Kalanjiyam felt that this was a very disturbing scenario and one that we believed could be reversed if we all worked together. At Kalanjiyam, we are in the process of developing a successful model for having local non governmental organisations working effectively to mobilise the community around improving education in government schools. We would like to share our model with other communities, NGOs, and government officials so that they can draw from our experiences.

Kalanjiyam is working intensively in 3 primary schools and 1 middle school covering a belt of about 8 to 9 villages in Maduranthakam and Cheyyur taluks in Kancheepuram district by mobilising and coordinating the local village community, parents, local leaders, officials and school administration. Our approach has been multi-pronged, to improve environment, provide educational resources, improve curriculum and address children’s nutritional and health needs. Since we started working, enrollment has substantially increased; the children’s enthusiasm and the participation of parents and community in improving quality of education is becoming a reality.

We have improved the school environment for the children by providing tables and benches or mats for seating, wiring for electricity where required and equipping schools with fans and lights. A member of the Kalanjiyam staff works in each school, spending half a day helping teach the children. Members of the Kalanjiyam staff are young women from local villages whom we train to interact with and teach children.

We have been developing the middle school as a model school in the area; we introduced computer education for the students and appointed a computer teacher to teach the basics of computers. We have now extended this program and provided computers to all the three primary schools.

Other extra curricular programs were introduced to stimulate intellectual development to broaden the child’s perspective. Every week we also bring a music teacher from Chennai to teach the children classical music. Similarly, a drawing teacher from Chennai comes to the school every week to teach the children drawing. All schools have been provided comprehensive sports equipment so that the children get an opportunity for physical activities after school.

Recognising that nutrition is an important factor for enhancing children’s learning we started providing weekly supplements of fruits to children in all schools. In the primary schools, we provide sathu mavu and extra vegetables for the daily noon meal. Kalanjiyam staff regularly monitors the progress and changes among children, in terms of their attention, interaction, performance in school as well as their health, by checking their weight and height every three months.

After the introduction of these programs, there has been a transformation among the children, the schools and the community. There is an increasing participation among parents who are now taking an active interest in their children’s education. Many parents who were sending their children to private schools began to re-enroll their children back into our local village schools. The teachers, with support from parents, have initiated more school programs for special events.

We started coordinating between the different primary schools to strengthen networking among the various panchayat schools for effective local coordination and for increasing enrollment. We have now provided a school van so that children do not have to walk long distances to come to school.

Every student now in all the four schools has ID cards with their name, parent’s name and blood group. The children from these villages are more likely to be one of the first to know their blood group among rural schools! We have also started a program providing Health Cards to all of the students, nearly 300, so that they can get free health care from the nearest town. The main objective of this program is to ensure that health is recognised as a right of children and to make sure their health problems are dealt with in a timely manner.

All of this is possible as the basis of Kalanjiyam is the community; it is the local communities that run the initiatives and activities with external support mainly in the form of financial resources. In the early stages, a Kalanjiyam village committee was established to identify priorities and implement the community efforts; they in turn identified young men and women from local villages to run the activities; local panchayat and other community leaders are consulted; and local resources and enterprises are fully utilised so as to gain the participation of the community in all activities.

kalanjiyam-2 What we have learnt from our work is that making way for real change is possible from within the community; a key factor is changing attitudes and this in turn impacts what actions are taken. It needs to be understood that closing down of a local village school is not a small matter and one that requires attention of everyone in the village/ community. Closing down of local panchayat schools in the long run will impact further development of the village and the communities that live there.

It has to be recognised that we as a community can do something, by taking small efforts that can bring change for a better future. A way of working together will make this possible; if only local schools, teachers, parents, community leaders, local officials, local NGOs, etc., come together, it is possible to prevent our schools from closing down and to do much more for the brighter future of our children.

The author is the Director of Kalanjiyam. He is a social worker with more than 15 years of experience. He can be reached at [email protected].

Kalanjiyam

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Kalanjiyam was founded in July 2006 by Munusamy Raviraaj with the vision of developing a community development model where the core guiding principle is involvement and ownership of the community in the process of development. Kalanjiyam means “Collections” (of people, works, knowledge, wealth, etc.) and represents that which brings together the community to make a difference.

kalanjiyam-3A main thrust of Kalanjiyam is to bring about attitude changes, along with community involvement in all the efforts. Kalanjiyam’s mission is to improve access to and quality of education, improve health and well-being, improve knowledge and awareness and build the skills and capacity of communities.

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