Anandshala - a model ‘school of joy’ in Bilpudi village, Gujarat
Bilpudi, a nondescript village in Gujarat’s Valsad district, can easily be missed on the state highway. Its thatch-roofed school, called Anandshala, can pass off as any other village school. But Anandshala is a success story of the model schools conceptualized and promoted by UNICEF. The school, with a focus on co-curricular activities, aims at mental and physical growth of its students by instilling among them a love of learning.
The school has an impressive range of activities – yoga, art and craft, gardening, music – apart from the academic curriculum.
Headmistress Laxmi Ben K Gavit, who has played a major role in the school’s transformation into an ‘Anand Shala’ (or the school of joy) says not only do children have fun in school, they also get good grades. She said, “Today we have been able to provide a healthy and happy environment for our students. And the results have started to show. When our children join high schools, they invariably top.”
Part of the holistic learning is an understanding of environment and hygiene education. UNICEF has successfully advocated with the state government to include hygiene education in the curriculum, and teachers have been trained on sanitation, health and hygiene education. “Clearly, young minds grow healthy in a healthy environment. While we took care of the surroundings in the school, teachers instilled a sense of hygiene among the children who were mostly from a poor tribe that has traditionally resisted schooling,” said Gavit.
UNICEF supported the building of a cement track inside the school and a boundary wall, and also trained the teachers on the art of ‘joyful learning’. Teachers were shown how to use paper charts and models to make teaching interactive.
The children are clearly thrilled to be in such a school. Ask one girl what she likes about her school and the entire classroom begins to speak. “Our teachers don’t beat us, we have swings here, we get to drink water, we go for picnics….” – the happy remarks go on.
The school has an average of 90 per cent attendance and in the past several years not a single child has dropped out. In fact, children from neighbouring villages that have schools of their own, prefer to walk long distances to attend this school that teaches grades one to seven.
In fact, during an enrollment drive in June this year, more than twice the number of estimated children enrolled in Grade one. A preliminary survey of the village had shown that 58 children from Bilpudi village would join school. However, as many as 137 of them turned up to the surprise of school authorities. The “extras” included students from neighbouring villages.
With one teacher for every 33 students, a ratio even better than the nationally recommended 1:40, students receive personal attention in classrooms. This school, unlike many others in the state, has 13 classrooms for Grades one to seven. The six spare classrooms are used for extracurricular activities.
The training of teachers, initiated and supported by UNICEF, has strengthened teachers’ skills and turned them into happy and proud educationists. “Our teachers were trained by UNICEF on interactive teaching. They were taught how to minimise blackboard teaching,” Ms. Gavit said.
Today, this school is a proud role model for other schools in the area. Parents are aware that their children study in an exemplary institution. Even though unlettered themselves, they show a keen interest in the school activities. The school has a ‘Mothers Club’ that meets once a month to interact with teachers and students. A member of the club, Leela Ben, a farmer, said, “My son and daughter study here. They say they can happily miss a meal but cannot miss school even a single day. The school has had a magical effect on my children and they now talk of going to college.”
With the Anand Shalas being looked up to as models, other schools are imbibing their characteristics. UNICEF State Representative Gujarat Dr Yogendra Mathur says that the Anand Shalas are set to change the face of primary schools in Gujarat. “The love of learning in these children will be so strong, that they will rise to their highest potential and achieve a lot for themselves and their community,” he said.