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SMCs bringing back students to classrooms in remote Uttar Pradesh
" MAHARAJGANJ, UP, India, 19 April 2014 - Nestled against the backdrop of the Himalayas and lush greenery is Uttar Pradesh’s last frontier in the east, the Maharajganj district. Villages here rise with "


By Neha Khator

MAHARAJGANJ, Uttar Pradesh, India, 19 April 2014 - Nestled against the backdrop of the Himalayas and lush greenery is Uttar Pradesh’s last frontier in the east, the Maharajganj district. Villages here rise with the sun and get lost in the darkness as dusk falls. 

Among such villages is Mathura Nagar. The village was plagued with a problem that the rest of the state also encountered, the local government school was in a state of decay, neglected both by the state’s and villagers’ apathy towards education. The Mathura Nagar Primary School (MNPS), built in 1962, resembled a dump-yard. The headmaster hardly came and the villagers even used to defecate in the school premises.

But in July, 2011, a year after the implementation of the Right to Education Act, a School Management Committee (SMC) was formed. A group of uneducated, yet motivated, parents joined hands with the new headmaster, Dr Kailash Nath Maurya, to change the fate of the school and the village children.

Collective efforts need of the hour 

Under the Right to Free and Compulsory Education, every school is required to setup an SMC — a local body composed of parents, guardians, women, headmaster and representatives of the gram panchayat. The idea behind the formation of an SMC is to encourage parental involvement to demand better functioning of the education system. 

UNICEF in partnership with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All) under its initiative “Aaahwan” (A call for everyone to come together) undertook training of the SMC members, educating them about the RTE law and their rights and duties as a parent. 

“UNICEF facilitated the production of an SMC training module, which detailed the roles and responsibilities of the SMC members, how to create a School Development Plan, what is the SMC’s role in management and distribution of mid-day meals, uniforms and books,” says Gopal Krishna Pandey, Education Consultant, UNICEF Field Office.

The 36 master trainers trained by UNICEF then assisted a pro-active district administration in the training of SMC teams in 2,122 schools in the entire Maharajganj district. 

Trained and armed with hope for their children, the 11-member SMC of Mathura Nagar School then began door-to-door campaigning, educating other parents to step forward to not deny anymore what was their child’s basic right.

“Each problem was identified, agendas were set and the jobs were divided. At the first SMC meeting, the committee decided to put an entrance gate at the school. The premises were then cleaned and a fence was put up,” says Rajdev Yadav, President of SMC.

Delegating responsibility and accountability is key 

The committee mobilized villagers and for the benefit of their children’s education, they agreed to repaint the school without charging any money for their labour. During monsoon, kids used to fall on their way to school, so the SMC got together and eight people donated their land to build a proper road that leads to the school.

“The responsibility of checking the quality of the mid-day meals is now with the committee, with each member assigned a day for duty. After daily attendance is marked, the headmaster calls the SMC member on-duty to follow-up with parents whose child has not come to school. At the monthly SMC meeting, attendance is further followed up in case of irregular students. Parents are also told to see that their kids come to school properly dressed and are taught hand-washing,” adds Yadav.

Though the SMC meets once every month, more meetings can be called if the parents demand so. “Benches were installed in classrooms when few parents raised the issue that their kids don’t like sitting on the floor. An overhead electrical wire was changed after it was pointed out to be old and risky,” explains Yadav. 

In four years, the committee has managed to create a sense of ownership among the villagers towards the school, turning a dilapidated building into a thriving system. From 116 enrolments in 2012, the school has touched 360 this year. Due to an involved school management committee, many in the community are now even withdrawing their kids from private schools and enrolling them in MNPS.

In four years, the committee has managed to create a sense of ownership among the villagers towards the school, turning a dilapidated building into a thriving system. From 116 enrolments in 2012, the school has touched 360 this year. Due to an involved school management committee, many in the community are now even withdrawing their kids from private schools and enrolling them in MNPS.

For the students, an attentive parent-teacher setup means better motivation to study. For Kailash Maurya, the school’s principal and the only teacher, parents’ involvement has meant appreciation of his work and sharing of his responsibility. 

“Earlier, parents used to think that all that a teacher does is to sit under a fan and relax. But now that the committee is informed, I’m not alone now. I no longer have to run around looking for students who have not come to school or oversee the preparation of the mid-day meals. I can now focus more only on teaching, which is what I’m supposed to do,” the principal points out.

SMC ensures 85 per cent attendance 

Since the enactment of the RTE Act, SMCs have been constituted in 88 per cent of the schools in India. In a state like Uttar Pradesh, where poverty and lack of awareness about the importance of education force 10 lakh children to remain out-of-school each year, a powerful tool like SMC is working towards ensuring kids reach schools and not work in the fields. 

About 15 km from Mathura Nagar is the Bariyar (Tola) Tirmohani Primary School, where another SMC is working similarly. 

“This village could be considered as a jungle two years back. Kids used to loiter around, even play cards in front of their parents. There was a local brewery in place of the school building,” says Pradyuman Singh, school’s headmaster. “But in 2011, the land was cleared and the school was built. The brewery owner was taken on-roll as the school caretaker and his wife as the mid-day meal cook.”

With the pro-active involvement of the SMC members, the school has today managed to raise awareness about education and ensured above 85 per cent attendance on any given day. “Even in the absence of the headmaster, the school functioning doesn’t stop,” says Shribhagwat Sahni, committee’s Vice-President. 

“With everyone in the community keeping a watch, it is today humiliating for any child to be found playing outside during school hours,” say Sunita Devi, a parent. At present, only Classes I to III function in this two-room school building. But following pressure from the community, the school building is now being expanded to accommodate till Class VIII.

Among the SMC members here is 38-year-old Ramchandra Maurya. 

As he reaches the school, Ramchandra first finishes monitoring of the school activities and then goes and stands outside his son, Binod Maurya’s, classroom. Strapped in a wheelchair is Ramchandra’s 12-year-old son, studying in Class II. Binod has polio.

“Binod is not a burden but my responsibility. My burden is my illiteracy because of which my son suffers.” On their way back home, Ramchandra enquires from his son about his studies. 

Ramchandra is deeply anguished because of his lack of education, but he now hopes that through his active involvement in the school and Binod’s education, he can give his son a respectable future and to himself some solace that he desperately seeks. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
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