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SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITIES:AN EXPERIENCE INRURAL

INDIA

A R U N A ROY

Abstract - When India became independent, primary education in the state of


Rajasthan was made the responsibility of the Panchayats (Village Councils), and a
number of village schools were opened. However they only drew around 40 per cent of
the 6-11 age group, and the curricula, text books, and even the teachers themselves,
recruited from the cities, were out of touch with the needs of the rural communities. A
study conducted in 1974 showed that, to improve the situation, it would be necessary
to make the school more relevant to village life, to involve the parents in planning,
and to run it at times when the children could be spared from domestic or farm work;
to select the teachers from village residents; and to adapt the curricula and teaching
methods to the environment. An appropriate programme was worked out and
introduced in three villages in 1975. It provided for morning classes for the regular
pupils and evening school for children who worked during the day. The emphasis in
the curricula was to be on agriculture and animal husbandry, and teaching methods
were to be closely in keeping with the life of the village. Suitable local people were
found and trained as teachers. The author describes the implementation of this
programme in detail. It proved a success and has now been extended to ten villages
with a total attendance at the schools of more than five hundred children.

R~sum~ - Lorsque l'Inde est devenue ind6pendante, l'enseignement primaire, dans


l'6tat de Rajasthan, a ~t6 plac6 sous la responsabilit6 des Panchayats (Conseils de
village), et un grand nombre d'6coles ont 6t6 ouvertes darts les villages. Toutefois, elles
ne furent fr6quent~es que par 40% environ des enfants appartenant au groupe d'fige de
6 fi 11 ans, car les curricula, les manuels scolaires et m~me les enseignants qui 6talent
recrut6s dans les villes, ne tenaient pas compte des besoins des communaut6s rurales.
Une enquire men~e en 1974 a montr6 que pour am61iorer la situation il faudrait que
l'6cole ait davantage de rapports avec la vie du village, qn'elle fasse participer les
parents & la planification et que les classes fonctionnent quand les parents peuvent se
passer de l'aide des enfants pour les travaux domestiques ou ceux de la ferme.
L'enqu~te a r~v~16 6galement qu'il fallait choisir les enseignants parmi les habitants du
village; enfin que les curricula et les m6thodes d'enseignement soient adapt6s ~t
l'environnement. Un programme appropri6 a alors 6t6 6labor6 et appliqu6 exp6rimen-
talement dans trois villages en 1975. Ce programme assurait des classes matinales pour
les 616yes r6guliers et des classes vesp6rales pour les enfants travaillant dans la jour-
n6e. L'accent des curricula 6tait ntis sur l'agriculture et l'61evage, et les m6thodes
d'enseignement 6taient en harmonie avec la vie du village. Des gens du cru, r6pondant
fi certains criteres, 6taient form6s pour devenir des enseignants. L'auteur d6crit en
d6tail la mise en application de ce programme qui s'est r6v616 un succ~s. I1 est
maintenant 6tendu fi dix villages et plus de cinq cents enfants fr6quentent l'6cole.

International Review of Education - Internationale Zeitschrift fiir Erziehungswissen-


schaft-Revue Internationale de POdagogie X X VI (1980), 369-378. All rights reserved.
Copyright 9 1980 by Unesco Institute for Education, Hamburg and Martinus Nijhoff
D.,L.Ir .... l... ,at.l_ _ Tr
370

Zusammenfassung- Als Indien unabh/ingig wurde, iibertrug man im Staat Rajasthan


die Grundschulbildung der Verantwortung den Panchayats (Dorf-R/iten) und eine
Reihe yon Dorfschulen wurde er6ffnet. Aber diese erfaBten nur etwa 40% der
Altersgruppe von 6-11 Jahren, und die Lehrpl/ine, die Textbiicher,ja sogar die aus den
St/idten rekrutierten Lehrer selbst hatten keinerlei Ber/ihrung mit den Bediirfnissen
der l~ndlichen Gemeinwesen. Aus einer 1974 durchgefiihrten Untersuchung ergab
sich, dab es zur Verbesserung der Lage notwendig sein wiirde, der Schule mehr
Bedeutung fiir das d6rfliche Leben zu verleihen; die Eltern in die Planung einzubezie-
hen; zu den Zeiten Schule zu halten, da die Kinder bei der h/iuslichen und b/iuerlichen
Arbeit entbehrt werden konnten; die Lehrer unter den Dorfbewohnern auszuw/ihlen,
sowie Lehrpl/ine und Unterrichtsmethoden der Umwelt anzupassen. Nach Ausar-
beitung eines geeigneten Programms wurde dieses 1975 in drei D6rfern eingeftihrt.
Den regul/iren Schiilern bot es Vormittagsunterricht und den tagstiber arbeitenden Kin-
dern eine Abendschule. In den Curricula sollte das Hauptgewicht auf Landwirtschaft
und Viehzueht liegen, und die Unterrichtsmethoden sollten genau auf das Leben des
Dorfes abgestimmt werden. Geeignete Einheimische wurden gefunden und zu Leh-
rern ausgebildet. Der Verfasser beschreibt im einzelnen die Einffihrung dieses Pro-
gramms. Es erwies sich als wirksam und wurde nun auf zehn D6rfer/ibertragen, so
dab jetzt ingesamt mehr als ffinfhundert Kinder die Schulen besuchen.

When India became independent and national development needs were


defined, primary education was seen to be important as well as relevant. State
Governments started schools in many villages to prepare children for re-
sponsible citizenship. In the Indian state of Rajasthan primary education was
in due course made the responsibility of the Panchayats (Village Councils),
which were concerned with local self-government and village development. In
spite of the number of schools which were opened and the fact that the
panchayat often asked for the opening of a school, the schools in this state
drew only around 40% of the age group 6-11; the institutions remained
isolated from village activities and followed largely the conventions and
educational patterns established by the British when they ruled India.

The Village School

The school teacher, appointed through a system of recruitment in the cities,


was very often many miles from home and generally a young man from the
city, used to better living facilities than the village could offer. He therefore
commuted from the nearest town, or in happier circumstances visited from a
neighbouring village. Either way, the fact that he had to travel to the village
made him dependent on local transport, which at the best of times was
unreliable. Further, not only had the teacher very little in common with the
villager, but the curriculum and text books also, drawing on the experiences
and environment of the city, left the village child bewildered and uncom-
fortable. Parents who tried the local school for the oldest child very often
rejected it as unsuitable. As far as they were concerned, the school created an
371

upstart and a parasite, who with the education he had received, thought he
was too good for his parents' occupation and was very often not good enough
for the petty white-collar job he wanted. The parents were happy therefore to
keep the younger children at work, mostly farming, shepherding the flock,
or the girls baby-sitting and cooking.
This is not to say that the village school was a dismal failure. The old system
was able to provide opportunities ofeducati0n in the conventional pattern for
children in the upper and middle level of the social and caste structure, and for
many lower caste children, the more fortunate of whom got white-collarj o b s -
though many found themselves misfits. But what it also did was to ignore the
needs of the farming community and of the poor who, with their traditional
skills, formed the bulk of the rural population and had the potential to
contribute positively towards changing rural life.

The Tilonia Experiment

When a small group of young professionals came to live in Tilonia (a village in


Ajmer District in Rajasthan) to work for rural development, they identified
illiteracy as one of the main reasons for the backwardness of the villages. The
malaise seemed to be much deeper than could be cured by the starting of adult
education classes. What was seen as a more lasting cure for the backwardness
was the need to expose the children in their formative years to alternatives
other than those that their parents were aware of. These should concern the
children's work, their immediate personal needs, and those relating to their
family and their environment. How could children be attracted to the primary
school, so that they could get a basic education and therefore become more
responsible citizens, growing up and continuing to live in the village but
working for its improvement and exploiting their strength in numbers to
demand attention to their needs? How could the community be involved in
planning for itself?. And, as a start, how could primary education be made
more relevant to village needs by involving parents and villagers in planning
for it?
A questionnaire was drawn up and a preliminary survey conducted to find
out why children did not come to school. Then, in 1974, the Centre for
Educational Technology and the National Council for Educational Research
and Training (NCERT) became interested in planning and funding a fea-
sibility study to identify the reasons for the failings in the system that was
current in village schools and to suggest alternatives to it. After the survey and
the identification of reasons for non-attendance, the study was planned in the
following manner by the Centre for Educational Technology and the Social
Work and Research Centre:
1. Children did not go to school because they were busy during the day; they
372

were doing a job and the family could not afford to get a substitute:
therefore school had to be open when they could come.
2. The teacher commuted and so was alienated from village life: therefore a
teacher should be appointed who was already resident in the village and
would continue to live in the village.
3. The curriculum did not take the environment into consideration: therefore
it should be changed; and if that was not possible, then the methodology
should be adapted to the needs of the villagers.
Efforts were to be made to locate resources in the village which could both
more relevantly meet the learning needs of the child, and at the same time
teach the villager that education did not have to be formal and utilize
traditional methods and aids. The most immediate and crucial need in the
identification of local resources and a first step in launching the programme,
was to find the right teachers. Since they had to be able to make a different
approach, it was decided that the regular government-trained teachers would
not have the right background for innovation and change- even if they could
be persuaded to live in the village. That meant that local people would have to
be recruited with the help of the villages. Being local they would understand
and appreciate the needs, unexpressed hesitations, superstitions and prob-
lems instinctively. They must not only be competent in teaching, but also
respected, tactful, good organizers and, above all, responsible individuals. It
seemed a tall order, if you added to it the fact that they must also be educated
at least up to the high school and not have aspirations to leave the village!
It was planned to start the programme in three villages. There were
expected to be too many children in each village to make the task possible for
one teacher to handle - which meant two teachers in each school.
The timings of the school had to be such that children who worked during
the day could come. The school had to be open in the evening or at night. The
actual timing would be decided by the teacher, the parents and the children,
depending mainly on agricultural needs. Examinations and vacations would
take into consideration local festivals, village activities and agricultural
seasons.
The curriculum would be the same as that prescribed by the Government,
as this would enable the child to join middle school if he wanted to, on
completion of the 5th standard. But the methodology would be radically
different. The text book would become supplementary reading, if needed at all,
and the environment would provide the main resources for the teacher. He
would have to be conversant with the agriculture of the area, the animal
husbandry pattern, and the local work-people - to be able to relate teaching
with what the child saw in his everyday life. It was decided that the project
would take agriculture and animal husbandry as the main areas of emphasis.
The village teachers would now have to run the morning school for the
373

normal school-goers and the evening school for those who would not, or
could not (because of their work) come during the day. The regular trained
teacher was to be transferred away for the three-year experimental period.
The school building could now be used during the night, and the experiment
could cover the aspects in the traditional system that needed improvement as
well. For the purposes of this paper, however, the night school and its place in
the village will be concentrated on.
The project began in May 1975. The teachers, who were recruited from the
villages where they were to teach, spent a considerable period of time with a
specialized team of educators at the Regional College of Education at Ajmer
and in Tilonia itself with the professional staff of the village. Lakhminarayan
and Bhagwatnandan were priests, Ghisa Lal and Kishen Singh were farmers,
Rattan Devi was a widow, and Ghisa Puri was an unemployed youth. In the
beginning they had to contend with a non-co-operative attitude from many
who belonged to the establishment, like the Education Department. Each
village, which met to approve the teachers, the school and the experiment,
welcomed it - though in the village hierarchy, the local politicians and the
teachers expressed reservations.
In spite of many teething troubles, the school in Tilonia was established and
accepted by the community within a year. The single factor that is generally
taken to be a criterion of acceptance - attendance - showed it to be so.
Children in the morning school doubled, and the evening school drew a
number of children who came despite the fact that they sometimes fell asleep
in the last half hour of school, and went home around 9.30 p.m. Initially the
parents were surprised and irritated by the fact that the school did not teach
their children from books and slates, and that there was no hum of class-
learning by rote. Learning through games also had to be explained to parents,
who were difficult to convince. But gradually the school settled down to an
irregular routine of evening work.

The School at Buharu

Buharu was a fairly typical village of medium size with about 250 houses.
There were equal numbers of farmers and herdsmen, some rajputs (former
rulers), weavers, potters and carpenters, and a large community of leather
workers. The usual political factions that always oppose each other were to be
found there, and there was a small group of educated brahmin. A few village
temples, a couple of wells for different castes, and a village tank completed the
picture- with the village school, built of stones and lime some forty years ago
and situated on the outskirts. The walls had not seen white-wash for years and
the walls inside the class rooms - of which there were two - were bare, except
for the blackboard which was so worn that the chalk hardly made an
374

impression. After whitewashing the walls and blackening the blackboard, our
teachers at Buharu (Rattan Devi and Bhagwatnandan) encouraged the first
lot of children to plant trees. At least fifty trees of different kinds were planted
- and the children learnt about them, what effect,they had on climate, why
Rajasthan was semi-desert and what could be done to contain it. The children
also asked why certain kinds of trees did not grow here. Of course each one
jealously guarded his or her tree, and damage caused by the stray goat which
came in at night, caused a lot of tears the next day. The school attendant often
interrupted with a story or an anecdote and the children felt it was fun. There
was some regional geography of India for the older ones, and the names of the
states for the younger ones, and then it was time for a little reading and
writing.
The village school was different and so much more relaxed than a city
school. Children wandered in after an early supper, boys in their dhoties (loin
cloths) and shirts, with bright turbans, looking every inch as mature as adults;
the girls were a smaller replica of their mothers, perhaps already married at 5
or 6 and bearing evidence of this in the jewellery worn. Rattan, their teacher,
saw to their hands and feet: a small wash, with explanations about the need for
it. Children were not required to change into a uniform that alienated them
from what they were used to. Most of them had had a tiring day herding cows,
buffaloes and sheep away from the village in search of pasture, others had
been doing a man's job in the fields; the girls had been looking after babies.
The first thing they wanted to do generally was to relax, talk and take time
settling down, grouping themselves on the floor around the kerosene lamps
that provided the light.
There were about fifty children and two teachers to take three classes. The
children were doing a project on the panchayat (the village council). The
younger ones were trying to recall what they knew about the panchayat. The
older ones who had a clearer idea, aided by the teacher came up with
information about its constitution, periodicity, method of election. Here they
digressed to revise what had happened before independence when Rajasthan
was governed by kings (rajputs) and their representatives in the villages
(thakurs). The children talked about village structure and the change which
had taken place. They discussed methods of government at the village and
district level. Then they wrote a small piece on what they knew, calculated the
constituency representation and the number of adults eligible to vote in their
families, worked out proportions in ratio and voting strength. The children
finally decided to nominate and second candidates and go through the whole
detailed process of election for themselves.
The local panchayat secretary and the Sarpanch (local elected representa-
tive in the village council) were invited to the school to answer questions and
to talk to children about the role of the panchayat and what it could do for the
375

people, and what the people should do for the panchayat. The secretary also
explained why cesses and local taxes were collected from the village and what
was normally done with them. The answerability of the panchayat to the
village was also stressed. The teacher very often learned along with the
children about the detailed working of the panchayat.
The first few candidates nominated belonged to the upper castes and the
voting pattern was on the basis of caste. The class monitor was therefore
decided by the strength of the particular caste representation in the school.
The teacher let it be, as she had already cautioned them against an election
which did not take merit into consideration. The school assembled on the
following days and all matters relating to discipline were forwarded to the
elected monitor. He was unable to decide fairly on most issues and they were
brought before the teacher for final decision. But she refused to become
involved as the monitor had been elected by the children, and they had to bear
the consequences. However, when they pleaded with her, she agreed to hold a
re-election the next term. In that election, the children who were nominated
were capable and the assessment was fair. The children had learnt better than
any academic lesson could ever have taught them, the necessity of a fair
election and how this had a direct and far reaching effect when applied to the
local panchayat.
Bhagwatnandan, who learnt only basic science at school, was very keen on
science teaching and had spent a lot of time identifying learning aids for
science from the environment. He was talking about the expansion of metal.
There was an experiment on expansion ready for the children to conduct, but
first a general discussion about the phenomenon. One older boy remembered
that his bullock-cart at home had wooden wheels with a metal band round
them. In winter the wheels were all right, but in summer the metal tyres
expanded - so the wheels had to be packed with cow-dung and mud and
soaked in water for the wood to swell. The children discussed this, then went
on to the experiment.
With two teachers there would generally be two or more groups of children,
one using self-learning aids while the others discussed or were taught some-
thing new. One group might be writing a small piece about the village, and an
older group seated around another lamp learning arithmetic ... The teacher
was asking a young boy what he did during the day. The child told him that he
looked after his uncle's cattle. His father had taken a loan from the co-
operative, and when, years later, he could not repay it and was threatened
with legal action, he had to borrow from his brother to repay it. The brother
lent him the money, but at the prohibitive interest rate of 24% per annum. The
boy's father had then given his son to be used as bonded labour in return for
the waiving of the interest payments. This real-life problem was discussed in
detail, the teacher using the opportunity to draw out the humanitarian,
376

sociological and economic implications.


An approach like this to relate the curriculum to the life of the community
went hand-in-hand with the involvement of the community in the life of the
school. Various local officials made visits to the school: the Patwari (Revenue
Officer) explained the procedure regarding revenue collection, classification
and measurement of land, maps and pass book details; the village priest told
the children about the importance of religion for everyday life, the signifi-
cance of fasting and the value of trees for medicinal purposes; the leader of the
bhajan mandali (a group for singing hymns) discussed the origin and function
of various instruments, talked about a number of saints and devotional songs
to the children who later joined in singing bhajans; a local expert on rural
industries gave a simple lecture about hand-looms and explained how cloth
was made; another expert came and showed the importance of soil and water
testing for agricultural production - the techniques were demonstrated on a
soil sample from the school's garden, and then children were persuaded to
encourage their parents to submit samples from their own land.
At the same time visits were made by the school to establishments and
institutions in the community: the local branch o f the Union Bank of India
invited the children round and showed them what business was done at each
counter; at the railway station the Station Master explained various transport
systems, the functioning of the railway, the jobs the staff did - and the duties
of passengers in making the service of the railway more effective. Since the use
of postal facilities is very limited in tightly-knit village communities, the
children were fascinated to visit a main post office and hear about postcards,
letters, telegrams, money orders, registration, and how to use the telephone. A
few children wrote themselves postcards, posted them and were thrilled to
receive them next day. The local temple was visited, where the priest explained
about various festivals and other religions; and the children were taken to a
dispensary for a medical check-up where the doctor also discussed aspects of
domestic and personal health and hygiene. Visits to a demonstration farm
were particularly important in making children aware of large-scale farming,
the latest techniques, and improved hybrid varieties of maize and bajra.
The emphasis on agriculture in the curriculum had the effect of sustaining
the interest of fathers in the school. Often community concern waned after the
initial expression of need and the meeting of that need. But in this area, where
there was no great pressure on land and many villagers had their own holding
(even if it was only small and of poor quality), the agriculture classes were of
interest to almost all the children and their fathers. At the start agricultural
information was given through the school, and the children were used as
extension workers to take seeds and sow kitchen gardens and to bring samples
of soil to the school - as has already been noted, to be sent on to Tilonia for
testing.
377

The formal structure of parent-teacher organisations does not work in a


village. Rapport and dialogue with the community are best maintained by
informal contacts, which was where Rattan Devi's function was very signifi-
cant. Rattan Devi had been widowed at 21, and was determined to brave local
criticism and make of life of her own rather than stay at home, dependent on
the charity of others. But although she studied local medicine and obtained
the equivalent of a graduate degree, she was still unable to get a job. The
breakthrough came in 1973 when she was recruited as a craft teacher for adult
education, for when the experimental Research Study was begun, Rattan
(despite her reservations and fears) was the village's obvious choice. After
receiving teacher-training at the Regional College of Education at Ajmer
where she gradually overcame her fears and came to recognise the deficiencies
of the system within which she had been educated, she returned to Buharu and
began to develop a dialogue with the village in her new role as teacher. She
went to all the homes collecting information about the children; her conversa-
tions with the mothers covered many subjects of importance to them, but
continually she came back to the need for the basic education of the children.
The fact that she was able to draw about 80% of the youngsters in the
appropriate age-group showed how effective her personal approach was.
Rattan was also able to make the school a centre for helpful meetings between
children's mothers and the social health worker and midwife.
Initially there was constant trouble from local politicians and the teachers
who had been transferred out for the duration of the experiment, and several
village meetings had to be held. But the villagers wanted the school and
Rattan: most had seen her grow up, knew her well, and felt able to judge her, if
not as a teacher, definitely as a human being. Only a local person of Rattan's
calibre, resident in the village, could have been so effective in creating and
maintaining so close an integration of the community with the school, and
many older villagers who would have been hesitant and have considered
themselves illiterate and incapable of participation in any educational pro-
gramme, were drawn in by knowing Rattan.

The Future

Since 1975 there have been many developments. The three-year programme
was a success - even by formal educational standards - and the Tilonia
experiment has now spread to schools in 10 villages with a total attendance of
more than 500 children. It has clearly demonstrated that one of the answers to
Rajasthan's problem of illiteracy is to open regular evening school for chil-
dren who cannot go to school during the day. The children do not wish to
remain untaught and unlettered: it is the system which has failed them. But
schools like those initiated by the Tilonia experiment, run by staff living in the
378

village and known and respected locally, and with an approach and cur-
riculum based on the life of the community, can make an important contri-
bution not only to the quality of life of the students but also to the develop-
ment of the village itself.