Central School

Central School

NAGPUR: What is the most that a group of youngsters can do with a paintbrush, colour palette and an empty unplastered wall? Well, in this case, they can double the strength of a government school, increase the attendance rate and improve the quality of teaching and learning.

Bringing colours not just to the empty walls but also lives of over 25,000 children across the country is city-based Zero Gravity Foundation. A non-profit organization operating under the umbrella of Dr Shrikant Jichkar Foundation, Zero Gravity was founded by Maitreyi Jichkar in 2008.

The young group has been working in the field of education, health care and rural development since a decade. While working in the education sector, its members came to realize that for mending impressionable minds, a lot of mending is needed in the infrastructure.

That is how their star venture the ‘Happy School Project’ started in 2011. Under this, they transform government schools through holistic infrastructural makeovers using UNICEF’s concept of ‘Building As A Learning Aid’ (BALA).

In UNICEF’s words, the concept aims at maximizing the educational utility of school buildings and the overall education experience by innovatively integrating curriculum-linked materials into the existing environment of schools. “We researched on the impact of living conditions on psychology of kids and found that poor infrastructural conditions have a damaging impact on child’s learning and can also contribute to the emergence of problem behaviour,” says Maitreyi.

Till now, the organization has transformed over a 100 schools in the country. The NGO is currently working on another 500 schools including 150 Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) schools, 50 government in Osmanabad district and some coming under Bombay Municipal Corporation.

The concepts are taken from the curriculum and incorporated in the theme of classrooms. “Whenever we approach a school, we largely focus on repair work, fixing toilets, electrical work and then painting and implementing concepts,” says Maitreyi.

What makes the initiative unique is that the concepts are not mindlessly painted on the walls. “People mostly don’t understand the logic behind how spaces and infrastructural changes impact the human psychology and learning capabilities. We take in consideration the colour psychology and then we use the right colours for the right age group. There is a lot of study that goes behind it. People often have this perception that what we are doing is picking up paints and painting,” says head architect Tanishka Acharya.

Adding that every part of the infrastructure should end up teaching something, Acharya says, “Our team of architects and designers are constantly ideating — be it converting window grills into abacus or floors into writing surfaces. If a theme of a classroom is forest, students will not just learn about types of animals but also prepositions like a monkey is ‘on’ the tree. When learning about birds, kids do it through Origami.”

After preparing the designs, the group presents it to the teachers who help them innovate more and develop teaching aids through infrastructure. “We largely focus on makeover of government schools because they are in need of this. The total strength of our government schools is going down, even when the income backgrounds are not increasing,” says co-founder of the organization Yajnavalkya Jichkar.

The young group uses different avenues to gather financial aid for the cause. “Our main funding comes from CSR of corporates. Also, we keep hosting a lot of fund-raising events by bringing people to the place we are working at,” says Maitreyi.

Once the school is revamped, the group remains consistent with the follow-ups. “After every project we have an impact measurement tool to see how things changed for teachers and students; how the concepts are helping their learning process and how are they using the renovated school infrastructure in the teaching process,” says Yajnavalkya .

In May 2019, Zero Gravity renovated a NMC school in Telangkhedi. The strength then was 57. “Today, when we recently did the survey we found that within one session, the strength of the school is 152. When we do an intervention in the school building, we encourage community to be with us in the renovation process,” says Maitreyi.

Apart from schools, Zero Gravity is also focusing on renovating government shelters. In June 2018, the group completely transformed the girls’ shelter home run by the district women and child development department at Katol Square.

The aim with which the young lot got into this project seems to have been fulfilled. “We wanted to provide basic dignity of living and learning for people coming from low income backgrounds,” says Yajnavalkya.

Central School of Nagpur, said, “We may cover slightly more of the curriculum than a traditional year because of the extended time in hand. We are using WhatsApp videos and online assignments as part of teaching. Students are sent one video topic each day, with a fixed time slot reserved for queries.”

Ritu Sharma, principal of Delhi Public School (Kamptee Road), said, “We have regular online classes and I keep joining all the sections to see what’s going on. We even had children making a nice concert song video, even though they were at their home only.”

Apart from studies, schools are also keeping kids engaged online by stimulating their creative side. Bishop Cotton School-CBSE (BCS) has encouraged students to send photos, videos etc of them creating awareness about coronavirus. Selected content is uploaded on the school’s Facebook page.

Lillian Makasare, principal of BCS, said, “All these activities are to make the kids aware about the virus. We usually give them tasks like drawing and yoga. Even in drawings, students depict things like how to wash hands, social distancing and precautions to be taken amid the Covid pandemic.”

Abha Meghe, director of Meghe Group of Schools, said, “Since children are spending a long time at home, it is important to ensure that they are engaged productively. In the tough times like these, it is equally important to look after the mental health of students as well and keeping that in mind we have introduced few extra-curricular activities for them,” said Meghe.

NAGPUR: Dozens of students in Nagpur won’t be able to secure admission in Std I in the 2020-21 academic session as they won’t turn six years of age by October 15, which is the most important criteria for admission.

The fault lies with schools which admitted these children a few years ago at nursery/KG level even though it was clear that they won’t turn six by the time they reach Std I. This never came up on the scanner because the education department’s control over schools start from Std I only. Now, the only option for those students is to repeat KG II and seek admission in Std I next year.

The state government introduced the minimum age criteria in a phased manner from the 2016-17 academic session with six years criteria being implemented from the current academic session.

Chintaman Vanjari, education officer (Nagpur district), said “Even last year we had a few cases like this. Students will have to repeat their kindergarten level because we cannot allow admissions in Std I if the child does not meet the age criteria.”

As per the earlier guidelines laid down by the education department, students should have completed six years of age on September 30 during the session when they take admission. A recent government resolution has allowed a relief of two weeks (October 15) for being able to complete the age criteria.

Some schools, mostly ‘budget’ ones, admitted students at pre-school level either due to ignorance or just to avoid missing out on admissions. Now three years later, such students find themselves stuck as they enter the ‘formal education’ phase of their lives.

Dipendra Lokhande, education officer (Chandrapur district), said “The data of all students being admitted in Std I is entered in a government portal. If the age criteria is not met, then the system won’t allow that admission. This portal, known by the acronym SARAL, exists only in Maharashtra and provides us a complete overview of statistics related to school education in the state.”

For education activists, the problem is who will pay the fee of such students who have to repeat KG II. Mohd Shahid Sharif, an education activist, said, “Parents are coming to our office and complaining about fees to be paid all over again. This is unfair to them as it is the responsibility of the school to ensure that all documentation is proper. Many times, parents are not aware of all the rules.”

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Children have much in common, but their ability and their potential are far from uniform. We treat each one in exactly the same way – as an individual. Our aim to prepare children well for their Senior School years and beyond. Personal attention from committed teachers identifies the abilities of each pupil, and encourages them to make full use of those abilities. New technologies give the pupils new opportunities for discovery, while retaining a base in traditional learning.

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