School­ing change

Pi­ra­mal Foun­da­tion has trans­formed gov­ern­ment schools in Jhun­jhunu district: peo­ple now pre­fer them to ex­pen­sive pri­vate schools

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - De­exa Khan­duri

How Pi­ra­mal foun­da­tion is trans­form­ing gov­ern­ment schools in Jhun­jhunu district in Ra­jasthan

Jhun­jhunu, in north­ern Ra­jasthan, is known for its grand havelis and the fres­coes on their walls. But they weren’t on prime min­is­ter naren­dra Modi’s mind when he spoke of the desert town in his Mann Ki Baat ra­dio talk of March 2018. What he fo­cused on, in­stead, were the gov­ern­ment schools in the district, which have trans­formed them­selves and have at­tracted 6,000 stu­dents from ex­pen­sive pri­vate schools. Modi also lauded head­mas­ters and prin­ci­pals of gov­ern­ment schools for the turn­around.

Much of the work on en­cour­ag­ing and em­pow­er­ing the prin­ci­pals to im­prove their schools and stu­dent en­roll­ment was done by the Pi­ra­mal Foun­da­tion for Ed­u­ca­tion Lead­er­ship (PFEL), which has been work­ing with gov­ern­ment schools since 2008. Be­sides this, the foun­da­tion coaches stu­dents of gov­ern­ment schools for en­trance tests to med­i­cal and en­gi­neer­ing col­leges, IITS and other pro­fes­sional in­sti­tutes. It also helps them pre­pare for ex­ams lead­ing to gov­ern­ment jobs. But the most ap­pre­ci­a­tion the foun­da­tion has earned is for its work in im­prov­ing gov­ern­ment schools.

The Sha­heed Col JP Janu Se­nior Sec­ondary School is a shin­ing ex­am­ple of the foun­da­tion’s work. As many as 980 stu­dents were en­rolled for the 2018-19 school ses­sion, the high­est in the state. In four years, stu­dent strength went up from 385 to 1,724. The num­ber of girl stu­dents went up from 27 to 317.

Its prin­ci­pal, Mani­ram Mandi­wal, 49, says that as a teacher, he would al­ways tell him­self that when he be­came

a prin­ci­pal, his grand aim would be the holis­tic de­vel­op­ment of his stu­dents’ per­son­al­i­ties; but when he did be­come a prin­ci­pal, his mun­dane but most ur­gent prob­lem was to get his school to work its full hours in­stead of wind­ing up by lunch. He says that in all his years as an English teacher at the school since 2008, the school had closed down daily by lunch hour. He’d have to tackle that be­fore trans­lat­ing his vi­sion into plans, time­lines, and check­lists.

Mandi­wal worked to im­prove the school, do­nat­ing as much as ₹1.5 lakh for new fa­cil­i­ties. By en­er­gis­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the school, he brought it to a stage where he could start get­ting peo­ple liv­ing nearby to en­roll their chil­dren in his school rather than pri­vate schools – which he calls “pub­lic schools”, be­cause many pri­vate schools are named so, for ex­am­ple, Bright Pub­lic School and Delhi Pub­lic School. “Pub­lic schools con­duct an­nual day func­tions, dur­ing which they mar­ket them­selves by show­cas­ing stu­dents’ tal­ents. Be­cause of this, they are able to com­mand hefty fees. I de­cided to con­duct Das­taan-e-jhun­jhunu on a large scale to con­vey that this gov­ern­ment school fo­cuses on ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties too, that we are as good as pub­lic schools,” he re­calls.

He con­ducted Bal Sab­has in mo­hal­las. Stu­dents would demon­strate their skills in recita­tion, pub­lic speak­ing, de­bat­ing, and so on. He would en­cour­age his stu­dents to com­pete against stu­dents from pri­vate schools at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. “It worked in two ways,” he says. “First, it makes our chil­dren more con­fi­dent. Sec­ond, it cre­ates a bridge of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the school and the com­mu­nity it serves.”

Gov­ern­ment school staff don’t get a chance to in­ter­act with the com­mu­nity, but the sab­has be­came a way of reach­ing out, he says. They helped raised aware­ness about how the school nur­tured tal­ent, and as a re­sult peo­ple were will­ing to donate money

Prin­ci­pals and head­mas­ters worked to dis­pel the im­pres­sion that gov­ern­ment schools give the go-by to ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. This con­trib­uted hugely to the turn­around.

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