The class was filled with a cacophony of voices; dozens of children were sitting on the floor. The walls were peeling badly and the room was clearly not enough to swing a cat. Monday morning’s first sunrays were peeking through the window, lightening up the confined space. As soon as I stepped inside, I was greeted with vivacious warmth and a sweet ‘Namaste Madamji’, followed by broad smiles and twinkling eyes. That enthusiastic lot had opened the floodgates of happiness hormone in me. Then and there I knew that we were embarking on a new journey; a journey of self-discovery. Kanishtha Prathmik Vidhyalaya, an old and dilapidated building is a government school and is also one among the many RIP (Reading Skill Improvement Program) centres of the CDP (Child Development Program) located in the Ved Falia hamlet of the Bhabra village, Madhya Pradesh. I had opted to volunteer by teaching the subject of English to the students of this school.Little thought bubbles paved a way for themselves and started floating in my head. There were 145 students (grade 1 to grade 5) with all of them being accommodated in a single tiny classroom for RIP sessions. And I was here for a week and supposed to teach them English. I made a mental note of putting a check mark by the words that read ‘Arduous yet plausible’.It didn’t take me even two days to realize the sheer amount of potential which these rural kids had. Not only were these children talented but their keen sense to learn was acting as a spark of inspiration for me.[caption id="attachment_5878" align="aligncenter" width="850"] Learning through fun-filled activities[/caption]“Villages are backward. The people are uneducated and orthodox.” These are some of the conceptions we are bumbling along with. But what I saw was starkly different. The children here had the potential to change the entire scenario.Pravin, an 8-year-old boy clad in an unironed white and blue uniform tried to complete the sentence.“My name….” he uttered these words thinking about which word was supposed to come next.Urmila, a bright little student, sitting in the front row prompted the word “is”The whole class watched him in rapt attention as he completed the sentence by saying “is Pravin”.He heaved a triumphant sigh of relief, went back to his place with a huge grin plastered over his face. I patted him on his back and the whole class broke into a round of applause.“These children are extremely talented but what stands as a major obstacle in their path is lack of resources and the poor quality of education that is delivered,” Mr. Dinesh Indorey, the community mobiliser of this project for the Bhabra branch stated as a matter of fact.Of what I had learnt in the past few days after visiting a couple of centers, it was quite apparent that the method of teaching that was being used was procedural or rather rote-based.According to the annual report on the status of education in rural areas in India by NGO Pratham shows that while enrolment in schools is higher, quality of education continues to decline.Schools in backward rural areas are the most neglected, and the standard of teaching is deplorable. One of the grave issues with government-run schools is that of infrastructure. Lack of sanitation facilities and even drinking water are issues that the students grapple with everyday. The teaching methodologies stand obsolete and outdated. These are the pressing reasons that are contributing to alarmingly high dropout rate in schools. There is yet one major problem that I myself witnessed during one of my visits to the rural schools.One of the centers was miles away and secluded. Further the path was onerous. Our motorcycle got stuck in a puddle. Moreover the distance simply seemed unreasonable. I kept on wondering the entire time, how can children manage to come here on daily basis. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the children can’t even think of attending the schools during the monsoon season.It was during one of my visits to a Balwadi centre (Pre-school), that I came across the actuality of the situation or rather the dark underbelly lying beneath it all.Monica was trying to comfort her baby brother Piyush, a one and half-year-old kid who was moaning endlessly. She gently held his hand, made him sit on her laps and cupped his face. Holding him with one hand, she took the bowl of porridge in the other hand and tried to feed him.10-year-old Monica had to drop out from school in order to take care of Piyush. Her parents are both agricultural laborers. As they work in the fields for the entire day, the only option that seemed feasible was, Monica be removed from school so that she can take care of not only her baby brother but also all the household chores.[caption id="attachment_5882" align="aligncenter" width="850"] Monica with her younger brother Piyush[/caption]This is the story of most of the elder children with younger siblings in this quaint village.“A lot of eminent people visit this village and talk about the importance of education and sending children to school. But they fail to understand the reasons that make the children here miss school, they fail to understand the situation,” said Mr. Indorey.
*********************It was 15th October, Global Handwashing Day. And the school decided to celebrate this day by organizing the activity of washing the hands of all the children of the school in order to encourage good hand hygiene and explaining the students the importance of it. I decided to participate in this event rather than just being a bystander. And I had an unparalleled experience doing so.[caption id="attachment_5880" align="aligncenter" width="850"] Global Handwashing Day being celebrated at the school[/caption]Volunteering exposed me to a lot of perspectives and issues. It perhaps was one of the most rewarding and influential experiences of my life. And it also made me ponder that how the change is arriving in small steps. The future of rural India is bright as the sunshine on the sea. What we need to take into primary consideration is that children are nation’s most precious asset. And the future of the nation depends on the quality of its human resources.“A public-private partnership in education is the most suitable scenario to check corruption, ensure efficiency and proper utilisation of allocated funds,” suggests Shubhi Vijay in one of her articles, as a solution to the problem of quality education in government schools.Thinking about how fulfilling the experience of volunteering had been for me, made a memory of mine surface.It was the last day of my volunteering. And as I was about to leave my class, there was a pang of sadness that I felt in my stomach. It was then that the kids altogether screamed with utter delight:“Thank you Madamji, nice to meet you.”I couldn’t have felt happier on listening to this.The corners of my mouth quirked upwards as I bade final goodbye to those little stars.