Lost In Ladakh : Part 2 (The School)

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My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.

–Maya Angelou

Often i find this particularly untrue in India, where the number of degrees/certifications earned in academic institutions is considered to be directly proportional to the intelligence of that person. Or the matrimonial worth of the person. Or the “talk worthiness”… Or Respect-worthiness… etc…

Us “Educated” folks spend years learning (read: rote learning) whatever got us those coveted 0.000001 % more from books which are often full of errors. So go to school, get those marks and get out.

Sadly even at 10000 feet in the heart of the lofty Himalayas the attitude prevails

My short stint at the Ibex Colony private school reminded me a few things i had forgotten.

Before i reached Leh, i had been informed of the background of the school, the teachers, the working conditions and my tasks there. Yet nothing prepared me for what i experienced the first few days.

But first let try to give a basic idea of the school there.

Often in schools in the cities or coaching classes the teachers and students lament about the lack of infrastructure, the outdated technologies, or the inadequate resources etc…

Well this school has no electricity. Forget copier machines or internet. If you think about it, you might realize that even in the cold months of November, March and even most of April too there is no heating.The month of May this time was unusually windy, cold and it even snowed lightly sometimes. And yet some of the students wore only a thin pullover with maybe two shirts. No gloves, no jackets nothing…And not because they felt heroic about doing this

The school has just three rooms: two classrooms, one staff/storage room, one real long corridor… A Ladaki toilet for the teachers and the older students (for the younger one’s have the school grounds to their disposal (literally)). A small room where the midday meals are cooked and a hand pump to drink water, wash hands, wash their plates after the meal, and of course, have some fun. Even my kindergarteners would hang (again, literally) on the pump and fill their bottles or wash their hands and lovely smiling faces.

The older children (class 3-5) would take turns to clean the classrooms, conduct the assembly. Ah, the assembly. Initially i was speechless when i fist saw how the assembly was conducted. But with time i realized, that even in this rudimentary formed it served an important purpose: it gave these kids a sense of belonging, a sense of “we”, of being together in a school. So my morning would often start with a 3 year old’s rendition of ‘Macchli jal ki rani hai” (a nursery rhyme in Hindi) as his/her contribution to the assembly.

But even though the children did so much work, i never heard them utter a single complaint,or make a face or answer back. Nothing. They seemed, in fact, to be grateful for just about anything they got.

What amazed me was their hunger for learning. They hang on to every word you utter, they are waiting to lap up each thing you teach them. Even simple games, a small piece of chocolate, a balloon or that some adult is actually listening to them makes them happy.

Sadly the teachers are, as of now, not equipped to quench this thirst for learning: Didactic and methodology are as good as non existent. Even in terms of knowledge there is a huge vacuum. What makes the whole thing worse is that English is the official medium of instruction. So while the teaching is done in a mix of Hindi and Ladaki, the students are expected to write their exams in English. And they struggle (of course they will) and hence under perform. And thus get labelled as “mediocre”, “dull” and even “dumb”. Or as one teacher even told me,”These hill kids are not as smart as your city kids”.
Am sure that is not a new story. Its the same in most government schools or even in most families for that matter. We find the easy way out (the lazy way) and tell ourselves,” es liegt nicht an mir”..i.e. its not me, its them… or “Its anyway not going to help. So why waste energy this?”. Of course i have often seen the other extreme in many city schools/families too: the child is spoilt to the core, or pushed so much that the child never really gets a chance to be just what he is (at that age) meant to be: a child. Mini Adults is what i often feel like calling them.

Its almost like the two extremes are in this way trying to balance each other out..

Often instead of trying to teach life skills like basic hygiene, motor skills, cleaning up after ourselves,being yourself we insist on shoving lot of unnecessary things down their little throats, choking them, leaving no room for them to spill out their new ideas, deciding for them what is right/wrong or good for them. So any wonder these teachers there do the same? Feel the same?

Having said that i felt motivated when i visited the nursery/pre-primary school run by DIET (District institute of Education and Training) and saw how open the environment was and how much efforts the teachers were taking to try out new ideas, use interactive methods of teaching and increase their own horizons so that they can do the same for the kids. And the school is just 6 months old!

Most importantly hats off to Payal Mahajan and Sandeep Mahajan (Art of learning foundation http://artoflearning.in/) for believing in these kids, trusting me to do be able to do something for them (though honestly i have not done anything as yet) and for not giving up. The kids really look forward to your visits!

Children have big hearts. Really big hearts. Let’s please not try our best to squeeze them and make them as tiny as most of ours and feel happy that now they are “just like us”!

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One response

  1. Peeyush Bhatnagar | Reply

    I am most overwhelmed reading your blog both from the energy the students have and your efforts to recognize the talents children possess there. Hats off to you!!

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