There are many ways in which one can celebrate Independence Day. One can pay tribute to those who sacrifice their lives for our freedom or continue to protect our freedom from various internal and external threats. One can also celebrate the festival of independence by recognizing the outstanding achievers who are trying their best to make our society fair, just, inclusive and innovative. Meeting Kesar Singh as headmaster of a government school in Datta, Sikar, Rajasthan was a moment of great rejoicing, reflection and humility for me. I met Kesar Singh at an informal get-together of technological and educational innovators hosted by Shri Sunda Ram, a very outstanding volunteer of Honey Bee Network. I will share the stories of thousands of grassroots innovators and traditional knowledge holders that Sunda Ram has scouted over the last two and a half decades. Kesar Singh was one such innovator who had transformed the lives of hundreds of children in his school.
Kesar Singh joined the Govt school in Datta in 1995 which was on the top in 1970-80 but had only 197 students, today it has 900 students. Majority of these students have moved in from private schools. The school has 33 teachers but the infrastructure was dilapidated, with tall grass growing on the roof. Since 2001, a resolution passed by the school management committee about the need for repairing leaking roof has been pending, but nothing had happened. The total area of the roof was 20000 Sq.Yd and would have required millions of rupees to repair. Since teachers had a lot of spare time, he requested them to make a list of alumni who had studied in the school in its heydays since 70s. About 2500 alumni were listed and ten groups were made of 250 almuni or less with various educational champions as admin of those groups. Sunda Ramji was one of those admin. When he shared the idea of having a reunion to mobilize resources for improving the quality of infrastructure and education in the school, there was a widespread positive response. Many of the alumni were already thinking about a similar reunion and this idea just clicked with them. On 17th May 2016, alumni were invited along with some of the old teachers. Many fellow teachers of Kesar Singh thought that even ten alumni won’t come. He wanted at least 1000 alumni to come. To feed so many alumni and former teachers and to have tent to host all of them required a lot of money. He talked to fellow teachers in nearby schools, village heads and other well-wishers and mobilized money for simple food and tent. When he called one of the alumni B L.Mittal in Kolkata, he was asked to mention his top priority for school development. After listening to him, Mittal told him to announce Rs.5 lakhs from his side. Next day, when alumni gathered, he requested Mittal on mobile to announce his contribution himself. In all, about Rs.8 Lakhs was mobilized. The normal cost of the repair was Rs.30 per sq.ft. He persuaded the contractor to do it for Rs.25. The muslim contractor then agreed to paint the walls also. The school got repaired, roof stopped leaking and the number of students in July 2017 rose to 372, in 2018, 639 and in 2019, it increased to 900. What is most remarkable was that most of the staff did not take any holiday and invested their time wholeheartedly in improving the quality of education. There were many emotional scenes when an elder brother would bring younger brother for admission, though he missed the cut-off point by a few marks. In 2019, the result was 100 per cent and 50 students got first class. To improve the results, he didn’t fail anybody in 11th as was the practice in many private schools. The then Secretary, Education, Mr. Naresh Pal Gangwar issued a circular motivating other school also to make list of alumni and mobilize resources for school development. In the meanwhile, the village had contributed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for making a good sports stadium and several other institutions too had contributed for toilet blocks and other requirements. Transformation of a government school in three years through local mobilization of resources by engaging alumni is a viable model and deserves to be replicated. Isn’t it possible that we celebrate 15th August by honouring outstanding achievers of one ‘s own community and 26th January achievers of other communities? If this could become a national culture or ritual, imagine the positive energy that would be unleashed through recognition and appreciation of such achievers. Government schools will again occupy the position of eminence they once had before the middle class withdrew from them. Ordinary people can bring about this extraordinary change without needing the government to intervene.