Field work comes with its own incentives. Starting the day early, travelling to remote places- that too in a scorching summer don’t seem to be very exciting. However, the encounters with people, ideas and missions make it all worthy. This time the field visit was to Prantij, a small town, around 30 kms away from Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
Schools in the rural set up as such leave me thinking. The discrepancies, hopes, despair, complacency and remedies- all strike at once, at various levels. There is so much left to do and to trickle down to that level. It is very easy to succumb to pessimism saying, “One person alone cannot really do any good!”
After completing three schools, and commuting while thinking about all these, I found myself staring at a small building of Prantij School No. 7. It was the fourth school of the day and completing the task was more on mind than anything else at that time. Field work is a complete reality check for all the arm-chair ideologies we flaunt around! It requires grit and efforts to sustain there.
As I entered the school, I realized that the whole school was just two classrooms in total! One class room, which was bigger in size was also the principal’s office, staff room and also served as a common classroom for first and third graders- all clubbed in one! For the other primary classes, there was a corridor, which also worked as an open classroom as well as mid day meal cooking and serving area! The staff was all in all of four teachers including the principal. The school lacked resources and that was evident. However, this seemingly small and insignificant school- both because of the building size and student strength reaffirmed my idea of goodness.
Before around 60- 70 years, one local freedom fighter Mr. Purushottam Solanki, whose grand children own the school building today, decided to rent this building out. The purpose was to have more children from the surrounding slums area come and study. The rent amount was fixed at Rs. 96/-. Purushottam bhai did that to overcome the discriminations faced by the untouchable children of those slum areas which excluded them from other schools. It indeed was a good gesture by the freedom fighter. But, the story doesn’t end here.
As real estate is picking up, even in Prantij, schools are being reshuffled and buildings are being sold off. In such scenario, there is not a single reason why this school building should stay! Also because the school strength is very limited. The infrastructure is flawed. Even the parents of these students would not mind if their children do not study.
However, the grand children of Purushottam bhai still do not want to encash upon it! For them, this land, which can otherwise get them the rent of at least Rs. 5 to 10,000/- a month is better off as a school- at least it is igniting some minds, at least it will help these children live a better livelihood.
Do you know what is the monthly rent charged now after 50 odd years? It is still Rs. 96/-.
By Gayatri Vaidya – Educational Specialist
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