This school is a 'second home' for its students
Chandan, a class IX student of Sri Sri Vidya Mandir’s Hindoljuri Middle School in Jharkand, says the school is his second home. “Not only has the school provided the education to my three younger sisters and myself, it has also housed and clothed us when our parents passed away.” He aspires to become a teacher to spread the wave of education among other tribal children.
The values taught in the school are as important as education:
Continues Chandan: “This school taught me to be a world citizen. It taught me about my duties towards my elders, my village and my community and to the nation as a whole. With all these qualities now I am confident of doing something worthwhile in my life and contribute to the development of society.”
Sunanda is another of the 3,600 first-generation rural children being given free education through Art of Living’s tribal welfare projects in Jharkhand. Her articulation and clear usage of language might lead you to think she is a product of a metropolitan school. “I recently appeared for my board exams and have scored 84 %,” she relates.
Bringing education into the lives of these tribal children is the passion and dream of Brij Chawla. It is the zeal of this 74 year old retired engineer to bring education into the lives of the tribals of India that brought him to Ghatshila, where he set up the first Sri Sri Vidya Mandir in 1999.
The Learning Curve:
“Initially, it was a challenge to convince parents to send their kids to school as it was a loss of one earning member for them,” says Mr. Chawla. But his dream led to the beginning of a movement, and the region saw the springing up of 20 schools in 14 years, reaching out to children from over a 100 villages.
The first step was to impart basic education to first-generation learners without replicating a typical urban school model. The aim was to educate the children and help them become mature individuals who would care for their fellow-beings and respect and care for the environment.
The curriculum is well-balanced, combining the practical aspects of education, language skills, arithmetic, moral education, agriculture, yoga, meditation and games. It includes all the subjects taught at any regular school.
For Science and Mathematics, the team has a unique blend in consonance with the day-to-day life of the community. For example, environment protection, ecological balance, greenhouse gases, depletion of ozone layers, etc., are explained via the Sarhul festivities during which nature and flora are worshipped. This is a unique and innovative way of imparting education.
The first-time students start studying their native languages of Mundari, Oraon, and the script Akiki. Mastery over linguistics, semantics, vocabulary and grammar in one language opens the door for effective communications for the young mind. Grasping other languages like Hindi and English becomes comparatively easier.
The lives of tribal icons like Birsa Munda and Sidhu Kanhu are highlighted in the classes to inculcate a sense of self-esteem and also highlight to the students the importance of preserving the history and cultural heritage of their tribes. Children are inspired to emulate iconic tribal leaders and personalities.
Recruiting teachers - going local
The teachers for the Schools are selected from the surrounding villages. “We believed that local teachers who understand the ethos of the children were necessary. We experimented by introducing a teacher’s training program with a fun-based learning approach.” he says, while speaking of his innovative approach to overcome the problem of finding teachers in rural areas.
The Teachers are Learning Too:
Anindita is a teacher at the school in the village of Village Hinduljuri, Ghatsila Block, Jharkhand. She shares how the School changed her too, “Since I joined as a teacher in Sri Sri Vidya Mandir I have gained a lot of experience.” She adds, “For these tribal children, education is very crucial as it will help them get out of their poverty cycle.”
Says Ranjana Sathpathy, a Senior Sanskrit Teacher in the school, “I am very happy and proud to be a part of this organization.”
Motka is the founding teacher of Salgadih Primary School. “I want to serve my village. Education is the only way to give these children a better future and help their parents kick bad habits like drinking. Teaching is my life mission,” he avers.
Innovative training programs for teachers also help them to inculcate responsibility within the children.
“Small Step on a Long Journey”
Jharkhand is one of the Naxal-affected states of India and a huge population resides in tribal areas. As the area is isolated from the neighbouring areas, the tribes living here have no exposure to the modern world and the latest technology. Very few are able to get proper education, and this is adversely affecting the next generation.
This was a major concern for Chawla. The urge to bring about a transformation made him quit his job 15 years ago. He resigned from the post of General Manager in Bhartiya Cutler Hammer to work towards bringing Naxal-affected tribes into the mainstream. He has now formed a team to work for the children in these areas. The team’s initiative, ‘Small Step on a Long Journey’, is a big leap towards development in Jharkhand.
The 20 Schools that have come up across the state are testimony to the team’s resolve to empower the village with modern facilities coupled with value-based education. The team is well on its way to realizing its mission of holistic education – a hallmark of Sri Sri Vidya Mandir.
These schools reach out to the surrounding communities too:
Recognising that the child interacts and engages with the community too, the schools have also become hubs of rural development such as zero budget natural farming, a technical training centre, free medical camps and extensive tree plantation.
Vyakti Vikas Kendra (The Art of Living) also initiated the Tribal Project to protect and equip the locals to adapt to the changing world in tune with globalization: one of the most effective ways of preserving and saving the environment is to educate the tribes.
Each school is equipped with a multimedia room run by solar power. The teachers are continuously groomed to recognise the need for uninhibited child development with a focus on value-based education which lays emphasis on hygiene, preservation of culture, non-violence, technology and environment protection. Native games like archery, hockey, kabaddi and soccer find a place in the daily routines of children. A state of the art computer lab set up with the help of Juniper Networks is the pride of each student.
The Earning Curve
Tailoring, sewing, craft-making skills are taught to provide a much-needed service for the community and to generate income. Some students go the extra mile to supplement their family income: Durga and Sunanda tailor school uniforms after school hours to earn extra allowance. Both of them have passed High School and are in Class XII.
Schools that serve as vehicles of rural reform:
“A school should be a place for uninhibited child development,” says Chawla. “Children in our schools are equipped with knowledge and skills to navigate through mainstream life, while celebrating and preserving their unique tribal culture,” he adds.
These schools could serve as the vehicles of rural reform and Brij Chawla is relentlessly working to achieve this goal.
Tribal School Programmes
Overview of Tribal School Project