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