Redesigning primary schools: Beyond toilets
It is extremely encouraging to see the emphasis the Prime Minister put on the provision of toilets in every primary school. He exhorted the Members of Parliament as well as corporations to allocate their resources at least for one year to provide toilets in all the six lacs primary and secondary schools [20 per cent of the total]. The schools in the cities may not need the support but in villages a large number of schools may need it. This can be done in one year. A mission mode approach will ensure that while meeting this goal, one does not ignore certain other basic needs too.
A large number of primary schools have only one hand pump. By fitting a simple pipe with six taps to the hand pump, within`.400 per pump, we can increase the availability of tax seven times. We came across such an example in Jharkhand. Most schools don’t have boundary wall, play ground, library, educational posters on the wall, benches for the children and clean drinking water facility. One doesn’t have to mention that in many schools the regular teachers don’t go at all and in some, they outsource teaching to temporary teachers hired by them. We have come across such schools all over the country.
My colleague, Prof. Vijaya Sherry Chand has developed an outstanding database of innovative and experimental teachers viz.,teachersastransformers.org. Several teachers have tried to improve quality of education through their own efforts. Some of them have mobilised resources from community and some have taken donations from rich alumni as well as other companies. If donations for specific activities for primary and secondary education can be exempt 100 per cent for three years with very strong penalties for false claims or improper utilization, we can create excellent facilities in each school in the next three years. Every investment should be uploaded on educatedindia portal and photographs of changes made should be uploaded. The contact numbers of the teachers, donors and community leaders should be given in each case so that independent verification can be made by the tax authorities through random checks.
Ideally, each school should also have a playground, lab, library, workshop and a tinkering room where local artisans, mechanics and retired engineers or other professionals can work with children to build their capacity to experiment and innovate. Hundred hours of such service can entitle a volunteer for certain medical and transport benefits so that those people who are needy and have service orientation come forward to spend time with children. The volunteers who do not want any compensation can be recognized for their outstanding service on the independence day by each village, taluka and district panchayat.
One needs three major voluntary service corps for innovation, education, health and sanitation. Every citizen should be encouraged to opt for one of the three voluntary corps so that everybody feels part of a nation building process. There are many countries which have compulsory military service to prepare citizens for national defence and emergencies. Time has come to encourage people come forward to contribute rather than only crib about various anomalies. This should be through the involvement of all political parties so that nobody works at cross-purpose.
Dr.K.L.Munshi had talked about Land Army way back in 1952. The first unit of the Land Army comprising students from Delhi University had cleaned up the Chhatarpur drain [in highly clogged and stinking condition] at that time. We need similar movement for mobilizing masses to transform social imagination and engagement with persistent problems.
Rajesh, A young officer in one of the districts of Gujarat used a very imaginative system of penalizing certain class of offenders by asking them to get thousands of benches supplied to school which didn’t have these till then. Why not.
Just a day before Rural Development Minister and Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam appreciated the contribution of the National Innovation Foundation [NIF] and Honey Bee Network by launching Bank of Ideas and Innovations. If the budgetary announcements of District Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship Centres have to become the part of the National Innovation Service [ignored by the previous government], then the NIF can play an active role in fertilizing the imagination of local innovators and community members for making schools the hub of innovative activities.