The English teacher of Pilang

Shree Singh Kuriyal

Name: Sanjay Jagudi
Profession: Teaching
Experience: 11 years
Present location: PS Maneri, District Uttarkashi

A posting as an assistant teacher at the Government Primary School, Pilang, is not an easy situation to be in. Pilang village has the dubious distinction of having a school in the remote Bhatwari block of Uttarkashi District. It is a steep trek of 18 km to Pilang from the headquarters at Bhatwari and when Sanjay Jagudi headed to the school as an assistant teacher some 11 years ago, many of the residents had not even seen a bus. The head teacher posted there at the time heaved a sigh of relief when Jagudi arrived and promptly went on long leave, leaving the new teacher to deal with the school, the children and the parents of those children.

Jagudi had some experience of teaching in a private school and always had a special affinity with the English language. Children in the Pilang primary school across grades were not able to read, write or recognize English. When he expressed his desire to start focused work in English, he was discouraged and almost laughed at. “It will be enough if they can write their names in English, you focus on Hindi and math,” was the advice he was given. Jagudi took this up as a challenge and slowly changed the ideas, attitudes and capabilities of everyone around him with regard to teaching and learning English.

Some of the strategies he adopted were:

  1. Listening to the children – He made it a point to talk and listen to the children. He needed to build their confidence in themselves and to believe that they could handle English.
  2. Creating a child-friendly environment in the classroom – He ensured that the class was a happy place which was full of colors with drawings, charts and accessible picture books. The classroom became a place where the children could laugh and learn. Jagudi became a friend of the children and then also of their parents. Discipline in the school was no longer forced, it was carried out by the will of the children.
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  4. Using the child’s context and pre-knowledge to create lessons – Jagudi ensured that nothing that was taught in the class was outside the understanding of the children. If the context of the lesson was not a part of the inner world of the child, he would contextualize the lesson. For example, he took pains to explain words and their meanings and related them to what the child was already familiar. A lot of reading exercises using toffee and chocolate wrappers were undertaken. He would take the wrappers and ask the children to read out the familiar words. The children knew words like ‘Kurkure’, ‘Chocolate’ and Toffee etc. They were very enthusiastic about trying to read every word on the wrapper. It was fun to learn new words this way.
  5. Using phonics to introduce the alphabet – He ensured that each child was made aware of the sound-letter association. He also ensured that A was not only for Apple but for a plethora of words. He taught the children to play around with sounds and make their own words (sense or non-sense) with those sounds.
  6. He used word webs, stories, rhymes, songs, role plays, etc., for introduction and understanding of concepts.
  7. Print-rich environment – He ensured that his school had children’s books and magazines (usually bought secondhand on his two-day monthly visit home) which the children had complete access to. They were able to touch and feel the pictures in the books. This usually would also serve to arouse their curiosity to the level where they would proactively want to read and write.
  8. Use of the discovery method of teaching, for example, nature walks.
  9. Use of the morning assembly for better immersion in English – Jagudi introduced an English prayer in the assembly, a practice hitherto unknown to the school. He ensured that children not only sang in English but also knew the meanings of each word contextually. He also introduced the practice of a child reciting quotes with meanings in English. A chance for a child to speak in front of all the school children helped boost the child’s self-confidence.
  10. The textbook was introduced in the class after many months. Children were already familiar with the English language when textbooks began to be used. Jagudi was conscious of the fact that the textbook was merely a means and not the end.
  11. Children in the class were encouraged to engage in meaningful reading and speaking. There were no mistakes in his class. Everything was right.
  12. Use of chunking – Initially, Jagudi broke up words into many parts making it a game for the children. Once the child got used to the word, its sounds and meaning, chunking was given up.
  13. Use of multimedia – With help of his phone and laptop, he was able to show many movies and videos to the children. He also played a lot of word games on his laptop and introduced the children to scrabble. His children playing scrabble (in English) was a big reward.

There is much more one can say about his methods but suffice it to say that the school now has English speaking, reading and writing as the norm. For the first time ever for Pilang, two of Jagudi’s students have gone on to pursue advanced studies outside the village.

It is commendable that he was able to change the face of language teaching by using the meagre resources available to him. He did all this merely by instinct and not on the base of academic pedagogical knowledge. Though he was transferred from Pilang early this year, he is sure that what he has taught and learnt there will live on.

He gives hope to all of us.

The author works with the Azim Premji Foundation as an English Resource person for Uttarkashi district. She can be reached at shree.kuriyal@azimpremjifoundation.org.