This rural Indian school – ‘a flower in the middle of the desert’ – has inspired its head to enliven its environs with greenery…if she can keep the hungry cows at bay
Istill remember my first day as headteacher of Gokulpur Primary School. I looked around and saw that there wasn’t a tree in sight. The school was like a flower in the middle of a desert, and I made a promise to myself that I would work to make the place as green as possible. My school is located on the fringes of Raebareli, a city in Uttar Pradesh, India. We have about 105 students, many of whom come from the city to study here.
Teaching children is a wonderful feeling. The students give me the energy to be active and to feel passionate about their learning. Nevertheless, being a government teacher in rural India is not an easy task.
In the classroom, I teach maths, English, science, social sciences and Hindi to 23 students. But as a headteacher, I have to take care of other official responsibilities, which can be a real challenge, given the lack of adequate infrastructure here.
As well as being responsible for the overall tracking and performance of the school, I am in charge of the midday meal programme – which ensures that all students receive a fresh-cooked meal – as well as the uniform and textbook distribution schemes. The uniform scheme is particularly challenging. We are expected to make sure that children have clean uniforms to attend school in, but we have to go through various bureaucratic processes and follow strict procedures to make this happen. The government and school authorities have not given a thought to how we are supposed to manage our limited resources, so it becomes the responsibility of those of us who work on the ground.
I live 5 kilometres away from the school and my commute takes 30 minutes. The roads are very busy in the morning, which means my journey to school is sometimes dangerous.
I started learning to ride a bike so I could commute independently between my home and school. One day, I was involved in a road accident and was knocked off my bike. Nevertheless, I was running late that day, so I still went straight to school afterwards.
I try to do all the housework before I leave and get to school early, but I am usually late because I need to look after my son, who is deaf. However, having a full-time teaching job is a huge privilege; it’s not something that many people in India have. So I try to remember that I have no time for fatigue, and that I should fulfil my duties with the same enthusiasm that I expect of my students.
I think that the quality of a teacher depends on her capacity to be persistent and flexible with the students, and on her readiness to be innovative with new teaching approaches, while also being prepared for the worst, in case of failure.
It is my responsibility to develop every aspect of the students’ learning, and give them a safe and comfortable environment in which they can flourish at their own pace.
I have always had a plan for this school and since becoming an education leader, as part of the Stir Education teacher changemaker network, I have been inspired to undertake several initiatives with the help of my fellow teachers.
One such initiative has been working with the children to plant trees and flowers on the school grounds, and to influence the community to take responsibility for protecting these plants. Cattle used to eat the school vegetation, but the community has started to work together to prevent this. Now, my students can enjoy a cup of tea or an outdoor class under the trees that grow on the school compound.
Shashi Devi is headteacher of Gokulpur Primary School in Uttar Pradesh