School leadership, in the recent past, has begun its gradual movement towards the course of necessary change. From the era of scarily strict principals who made everything living, in their surroundings, go mute, the schools, now, support dynamic school leaders with an understanding of and support towards numerous issues of pedagogy and the overall teaching-learning process. This movement has started to make itself visible in a few schools across the country.
One school to stand tall in its claim of embracing change finds itself in the Tauru district of Haryana, with a 75 year old school leader who lives away from family, draws her energy from the work she does and is truly an inspiration with her will to contribute to the nation, serve the underprivileged and make it all matter!
On one of my visits to schools around Delhi, I had the honor to meet Mrs. Susham Sood, who runs Llyod Play School, funded by the Llyod Punj Trust with a vision to provide quality education to even the poorest. This humble establishment is around a 100 kms from Delhi, in a very small village named Tauru, where most of the men and women are daily wage workers and farmers.
Mrs Sood began her first year of school, along with a staff member, by visiting all the houses in the village in order to identify families incapable of providing even the most basic amenities to their children. After selecting around 60 students in the first year, the school maintained a teacher-student ratio of 1:15 to be able to give each child the attention they needed. The students, not used to going to school were found either hiding in the bushes or asleep in their huts when the van went to pick them up from home. The students and parents weren’t ready for this formal schooling which called for this game of ‘hide and seek’ each morning, before the children became familiar with the school and got used to getting themselves to it! This apprehensive beginning, which lasted for a few months, resulting in school starting almost an hour late every day in wait for more children to come, did not bother Mrs. Sood at all. She was extremely joyous when students began to come to school regularly.
Getting the children in her class was only half a battle won, because even when they did show up, they were most often than not untidy, hungry, sleepy and lacked complete will or stamina to sit in class for the duration of the school. Mrs. Sood’s teaching began by teaching kids about health and hygiene and getting them habituated to bathing, brushing, eating nourished food and being active. To date, the first hour of the school is for getting children to school, putting them under showers, getting some nourishing breakfast in their tummies and THEN getting to the assembly.
‘When they arrived, most of the students had dull brown or golden hair; but now, only after a year of grated vegetables mixed with pulses for lunch, their hair is actually changing color and they are getting healthier’, Mrs Sood said, after a year of the school’s establishment. It wasn’t just the physical strength that saw an increase in these kids, but an immense change in the ability to concentrate and behavioral changes were also quite plain to see amongst students.
Getting to academics, the curriculum followed by the school relied solely on experiential learning. Given this, even with the lack of resources, the will to teach with activities has made the school a true place for learning. Mrs. Sood emphasizes on activity- based learning and ensures students don’t engage in rote learning at any point in time. Students mark their own attendance on the board and sit in their groups all day to work, learn and play. If at any point, the syllabus demanded exposing children to something that they do not encounter in their environment, Mrs. Sood actually creates a simulation, instead of taking the risk of only teaching them about it from the textbooks and hoping for them to remember it for life. For example, if she had to teach them about a post office and she knew there was no post office in and around the village, she would transform the classroom into a post office with all the required resources like stamps, post cards etc, for students to get a feel of what a post office is like.
With the stringency of the system and the demand, pressure and ease to abide by it usually does nothing to break out of it but Mrs. Soods ability to handle and mold even the lack of things to her benefit and serve the children to the best of not only hers, but anyone’s ability is remarkable and awe-inspiring. The zeal to induce fun in learning is the scaffold to her teaching practices which is what makes it so impactful. If only we have such physically, mentally and emotionally strong people, armed with a solution-based approach towards school operations, resource utilization, classroom management and learning, the education system will get nothing but better.
By Ritika Arora – Educational Specialist