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My School – My Mission

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By Ajay Balhra

While listening to educational discourses on large platforms, one hears of many factors that are supposedly needed to improve the worsening conditions of public schooling (at least in Haryana and most of other states in our neighborhood) such as policy reforms; collaborative efforts by educationists, researchers, psychologists, administration; regulation and monitoring etc.  But one particular question has been boggling my mind for a fairly long time: What if polity, society, researchers, philosophers and other such factors do not play any role at all? Why not look back into the past when the Emperor/State head had nothing to do with education? The whole school was taken care of by the ‘Guru’. He, along with his team, used to take care of everything (certainly with backing from the local community).

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I believe that it is the teacher who has to impart quality education as he is the one who is in direct contact with the students. If a teacher is determined and capable, no power can stop him/her from giving his affection and knowledge to the recipients. Yet another key person is the SCHOOL HEAD who has got an equally important role to play. Truly speaking, a slightly bigger role than the teacher, as he/she is the one who can:

  1. Envision the future state of the school  and prepare annual and perspective plans accordingly
  2. Build a team and keep it in high spirits
  3. Act like a bridge between higher authorities and the school
  4. Generate faith among the community in the catchment area
  5. Raise funds from various sources (e.g., politicians, NGOs, Education department)
  6. Act like a Leader or Hero of the team named SCHOOL.

It is this conviction about the decisive role of the School Leader that inspired me to take up the challenge that was placed before me. When I took up my responsibilities I told myself that even if higher authorities do not extend any financial help, even if I do not get any resources from other quarters, even if my school building does not appear like that of the private school in the vicinity, yet I WILL keep my team motivated and we will SERVE QUALITY EDUCATION. I was certain that sooner or later the department will take note of us…that the DAY WILL COME WHEN PEOPLE WILL FEEL PROUD TO BECOME PART OF OUR SUCCESS STORY.

Our Story

I joined the present school, Government Senior Secondary School, Mandola, Haryana, on March 14, 2015. I was not very happy as this place was 150 kilometers from my hometown and the commute would take approximately 2.5 hours.

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Visited the School Twice Prior to Joining

As soon as I received the transfer orders, I decided to pay a visit to the school. It was in a pitiful condition – no electricity for months, no water, and the invertors, water cooler, and reverse osmosis filter system were not ‘in working’ condition for a very long time just because of ignorance. The library was not set up. Sports were non-existent. Play grounds were in horrible condition. The sports room, NSS room, and DTH room had not been opened for years.

Initially I planned to get my transfer orders cancelled through court intervention. Since that impugned order was prima facie against the transfer policy and thus it would have been quite easy for me to get it cancelled and stay back in my home town in the same post, that of Additional Project Coordinator (APC) in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)/ Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA).

Taking Up “The Challenge”

But then I thought, why not take up this challenge? Is it justified to remain posted in ‘comfortable stations’ and not do anything on the ground? And further, if no one takes up such challenges, then how will the conditions of government schools improve? All of a sudden, I made a commitment to myself that I WILL join that school and do my best to take the school to new heights. I promised myself that I shall try my level best to regain the lost reputation of that school (in particular) and all government schools (in general). I paid a second visit to the school to obtain a clearer picture of the assignment that I was about to take up.

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The Blue Print

That same night, after getting back home, I started preparing a ‘blue print’ of what needs be done to improve the conditions of the school, prioritized some basic work over others, and devised a plan for the upcoming academic session. I also did some ‘thought experiments’ regarding how I would go about getting the cooperation of the staff and community, how to raise funds (as I was pretty sure that the education department was not going to help me in a requisite and timely manner), how to involve students, as well as how to sensitize and motivate the teachers so that they can work as a team for overall academic excellence. That day I set up a rough ‘work plan.’

Non-Academic

Issues Strategies Time Line

Electricity, Water, Non-working appliances, repair and installation of fans in all class rooms, Cleanliness, white wash,  minor Repair, major Repair, new construction (science labs & Hall)

Arranging funds

1. From Department

2. From Community

3. Collection within school

4. From own pocket

Electricity, water and repairing of appliances – within 30 working days

White wash & repair of building –180  working days

New construction—one year

Starting Games/Sports

Preparation of play grounds , Engagement of coaches & procurement of sports items

60 working days

Academic

Issues Strategies Time Line

Enrollment

Motivating the staff for the following:

Door to door canvassing, Counseling of students,

Counseling  of parents,

Solving the issues of students (if any)

April 2015

Retention

Making the school look and feel “welcoming”, minimum wastage of time of Instruction, activity based learning, Co-curricular activities

April 2015

Quality

Emphasizing on “comprehension & learning”, minimizing cramming and use of Help Books (Guides),

Minimum home work maximum assignments,

Continuous Assessment-Evaluation-Remedial Coaching

May 2015 onwards

Personality Development Program

Employing Theatre/Drama

Addressing the Assembly,

Participating in various cultural events

20 April 2015 onwards

English Speaking

Practice sessions in the evening

15 April 2015 onwards

Sports

5.00 pm to 7.30 pm Daily

May 2015 onwards

I joined the school on March 14, 2015.

Assembly & School Timings

The first thing I did was to increase the school time so as to have sufficient time for assembly. As per government orders, the assembly is to be of 20 minutes duration and is to consist of prayer, roll call and singing the national anthem. The morning assembly, however, is the only time when all the students and staff can be addressed together. Moreover, if one wants to introduce activities like debates, declamation, dance, and art exhibitions, the assembly has to be at least an hour long. With this in mind I discussed my plan with the students and decided to start the school a little early so that we can increase the number of activities during assembly. Thereafter my school became the ONLY school in Haryana where one could see students for 12 hours, that is, from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm daily. Staff members were free to reach school at 8.00am, that is, the time fixed by the Education Department but almost all started arriving at 7.30 am.

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Motivating Staff through Frequent Staff Meetings

The first few days I was on my own as I cleaned the school premises. But very soon I found students coming forward to help me with sweeping, mopping, weeding, cutting and trimming plants and within a week or so “the school was THE SCHOOL”.

I conducted two fairly long meetings with the staff members to make them understand that whatever I was doing or trying to do was not for personal gain. I also admitted that I could not do it alone and that we will have to join hands to revive the school. After a few initial ‘ifs and buts’ they agreed to work largely as per my plan (which was not explained in detail yet). I wanted them to come up with their Ideas so that they can work towards their own plan, instead of forcing ‘my plan’ on them.

This worked. They started telling me the means and modes regarding how we can get the electricity restored and with whose help; how we can get our electric appliances working and from where to procure the money, so on and so forth!!!

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Arranging Funds

One of the staff members told me that a huge heap of junk (mostly steel scrap) has been lying in the storeroom for the past 15 to 20 years. This could be sold to the junk dealers in order to help us generate some finances. The village headman (‘sarpanch’) was called upon and after inviting quotations from the junk dealers, the junk was disposed of for Rs. 44,000.

Now we had some money with us out of which the outstanding electricity bill along with the security for new electricity connection was paid and this way we got back the ‘power’. The water cooler was also repaired and serviced and, to my utter surprise, one of the staff members paid the whole amount from his own pocket in the form of donation to the school.

The students were asked whether they would like to have some sports facilities at school, and no surprise, I got back a “Big Yesss!!!” But the problem was again the same – from where will we get the money to procure the sports items? Then came the idea of contributory pool (at least for sports) and I made a suggestion, first to the guild of House Masters (Teachers), House Captains (students), Vice Captains and a few more students who had already established a faith in their school head and then to the whole school. I was really excited about this new ‘game’ but equally worried about its success, because failure would have been fatal for any such plans in the future.

I made an announcement (in the form of a request): “Today we will see how much funds we can raise, for purchasing sports items, from within the school boundary and if it works we can go to the community for some bigger amounts in future.” I, without even consulting the teachers, made a promise that all of us (teachers) shall also contribute towards the same. Would you believe that we were able to collect Rs. 10,000/ in a day and that too from within the school! That really boosted the morale of my core team (students and a few teachers).

The sports items were purchased and a coach employed (the salary would be paid out of our collection for rest of the session) and this way we could start 8 different games in our school.

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Increasing Enrolment and Managing Retention

The next thing in my mind was how to fetch more students to our school since there are several private schools in the catchment area of our school, one being within one kilometer of our school. I have never been against private partners in school education. But I was aware of the low quality of education being served in private schools run in villages like this and also of the large amount of money being drained out the pockets of poor parents, that too for “NOTHING”. I am of the view that if a country can provide “Uniform and Free Education and Health services” to her citizens, then the wide gap between the poor and the affluent can be bridged to a large extent. Therefore, making my school “marketable” was also part of my strategy. In order to do this, I had to add two features to my ‘brand’ – BETTER BOARD RESULTS & ENGLISH SPEAKING STUDENTS. I had sufficient time for the former but the latter required immediate attention.

English Speaking

I had a long conversation with the senior students where I suggested to them that although we should be proud of our own language we need to know at least one language to get access to the larger body of knowledge and also to communicate with the non-Hindi speaking people across the world.  At first they looked at each other hesitatingly. But then they said, “We want to learn English” and that was a major breakthrough for me as I never imposed any decision of mine on my staff or students. I always wanted them to feel as if they have taken that particular decision for their betterment and this feeling, I believe, makes them more accountable and committed to achieve their targets.

This is how I started English Speaking Sessions in the evening (4.30pm to 5.30pm daily).

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Personality Development (Theatre & Sports)

Likewise, I introduced ‘Theater’ as a personality development program in my evening school along with some other games like badminton and chess which became very popular with the students in no time.

I have not discontinued the regular meetings with staff and community members. These meetings serve a dual purpose–on the one hand it helps me to gather new ideas for further improvement in school, on the other hand it helps me to gain their faith, something I was striving for from the very beginning.

The success story is still in its infancy and lot more is yet to come out of the magic sack.

I would feel obliged if friends, like you, can give me some valuable suggestions for further improvement in this mission of mine…oh sorry OURs….!!!

Author:

Dr. Ajay Balhra is a Lecturer (Biology) in the School Education Department, Haryana. He is currently posted as Acting Principal in Government Senior Secondary School Mandola, Rewari (Haryana). Dr. Balhra worked in various private schools before joining government service. After joining the Department of Education he was on deputation in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA)/Rashtriy Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan RMSA for more than 10 years as Assistant Project Coordinator (APC). During this time he also served as a member of State Resource Group (SRG) in Creative and Performing Arts and conceived and implemented Art Integrated Education (AIE) in Haryana for the first time. Subsequently 68 Cultural Centers were established all over Haryana and lot more are sanctioned and yet to be established. Three to four part-time Art Instructors have been appointed for each of the cultural centers for each of the art forms viz: Drama, Music (vocal and instrumental) and Fine Arts. Dr. Balhra has numerous publications to his credit, including, the following books: Prathmik Shiksha – Ek Drishtikon (Primary Education: A Perspective), Alpha Publishers Delhi, 2008; Chand baatein Shiksha Par (Some Words on Education) (Forthcoming); a novel, Prem – Ek Adhoori Kahani (Love – An Unfinished Story) (Forthcoming). He also published a few papers. He has conducted more than 1500 workshops in both government and private educational institutions on various educational issues. He produced a Musical Album on RTE Act 2009 (having written and sung all the 8 songs himself). This Album was adopted by the Department of Education, Haryana in 2012. Mobile: +929896210727, +919215353193. Email: drajaybalhra@gmail.com.

[This article is part of the Cafe Dissensus School Project. If you would like to know more about this, please visit Cafe Dissensus School Project.]

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5 Responses to “My School – My Mission”

  1. dinesh kumar sharma

    sir ……i like it very much and deeply impressed to me &my family, i will also with you everytime

    Reply
  2. Bikram Jeet Singh Chauhan

    I am a colleague of Mr Ajay Balhra.He is really a great personality. He is a person who can change reaction.
    I wish him great name fame and success.

    Reply
  3. rakesh dhawana

    Sir you have really a magnetic pesonalitty with positive power i am really want to study in your school in 12 class sir plzzz i have only one request plzz upload the more images of your school students specially upload the pictures of 12 class non medial plzzz plzzz plzzz

    Reply
  4. djrvee

    Well-done Sir, I have no words to Define How u worked and What u worked…..Excellent work….Carry on, I am always with u….

    Reply

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