How many primary schools have a library, which is easily accessible to the children? Even the private schools may ration the number of books to one or two that are issued to the students per week. A government primary school in Kalol has created a new model of take home library for children. Recently, I met Pritiben Gandhi, the teacher who conceived this idea along with her colleagues and was deeply impressed with the energy and enthusiasm she exuded. Initially she started by keeping about 100 odd books on a platform around a tree in the school compound. It was an open library which children could use any time they wanted. And then she realised that there was not enough time for the children to read the books. In this age of hundreds of channels on television and reduced span of attention, developing the habit of reading books is not an easy thing. She found donors like IFFCO and some other individuals who contributed 54 boxes, which children can carry home. Each box has 15 books and is issued for a month to a child. The next month a child gets another box. And then, another box. Except for a few books like a dictionary, children get the opportunity to read at least 120 books in a year and not only children, their family can also access the library. When the king of Gondal tried to popularise libraries 100 years ago, he would not have imagined that there will be a school in 2013 which will provide a take home library to every child. It is possible that such an educational innovation takes many more decades before every school in 6.5 lacs villages of the country will have similar take home libraries for every student. A generation which will grow reading books and reflecting on ideas will be a generation of thinkers, doers and imbued with the spirit of sharing.
I hope at least some of the readers would take this step of donating at least one small box with 15 books to any school they want. There is no better gift.
Pritiben has tried another idea, which is to invite volunteers to teach the needy children after school hours. There are many first generation learners whose parents cannot reinforce learning in the school. The parents are also invited to the school to see the progress of the children who are asked to read in their presence. In a nearby region, there is another teacher, Mehul Suthar, who has innovated another model of community mobilisation for enhancing the learning experience of children. In Boru Primary School, near Grambharti, Gandhinagar, he has mobilised more than 100 tablets through various donations and gives them to children to take home once a month. Children are supposed to make a presentation either about their village or their family by taking photographs, inserting them in text files and typing the story in either Hindi, Gujarati or English. The school also has a smart class provided by the government, which may not be a replicable model because of the cost. But the idea of providing tablets is not too difficult. The teachers also cultivate flowers in the school compound and use the income for running various facilities.
Chetan Patel from SRISTI and Prof. Vijaya Sherry Chand, IIMA, have pooled hundreds of such innovations from Gujarat as well as other states. I have suggested this to the Chief Minister as well as the Secretary, Education, that if they really wish to give importance to education, then they should try to have at least one lunch or dinner in a week with such motivated teachers of primary or secondary schools. It does not really cost much, but listening to such teachers will inspire anybody. And some of these ideas are not too difficult to replicate. There are a lot of people who may have studied in village schools and reached a better station in life. If each one of them contributes one library or one tablet, the learning environment can really be transformed. With the help of students at IIMA, we have pooled 27 GB data of the Khan Academy and hundreds of videos of science education put up by IFLS in open source. These have to be adapted in Gujarati and other languages and made available to every single school in the state. Democratisation of knowledge will empower not only students but also their teachers and families. I hope that sooner than later, the policy makers will realise that they couldn’t leave a better legacy than replicating good ideas emerging from the grassroots.