There is a wise old man at Mitra, and last week he had the not-so-pleasant responsibility of asking 3 non-performing teachers (some were performing alright, but tasks that were not in the least required) to move on, out of the AQTE programme. He and the Mitra team organised village meetings in each of the 3 centres, every evening for 3 days.
To give you some background, the Adding Quality to Education (AQTE) programme started in 2005, in some of the most remote hill villages. The Odisha government had, on paper, schools and teachers in some of these villages, and children were, on paper, apparently attending, eating mid-day meals at school, writing exams and passing etc. Figments of people’s imagination sadly. Very imaginative people, as none of the above were actually happening at many of these primary schools. Fortunately, the people of these villages decided to take matters into their own hands. They got older kids from their own villages (most of whom had not gone beyond grade 10) to run the schools, take class every day for their little brothers and sisters. They asked Mitra to support these volunteers, with training, books, a stipend and so on, and AQTE was born. It created ripples in the system, and over the last 8 years, many primary schools have been built in the hills, some teachers actually show up once in a while, and AQTE teachers make sure that the kids in their village can atleast read, write and have fun at school. It also created a pool of young people who were trained in basic teaching, who were motivated to serve their communities, who would use this as a stepping stone to study further or apply for permanent jobs and so on. Many people have passed through this programme and become confident, caring individuals. Some have not done so well though, and as a result, last weeks meetings were held.
At K village, MCR addressed the gathering. “We are here to say thanks” he said. “We started out hoping to stabilise our school in 3 years. We achieved that. You supported this process for six years, three more than planned. Now, at year 7, we can only say a humble thank you as we leave.” The people of K are just as witty and diplomatic, if not more. They replied saying stop all of the health work here, the nurses, the mother and childcare, the growth monitoring, the anti-malaria and other chronic diseases treatment, but you cannot stop the education work at our school. They know fully well the health related work will continue, and this way they ensure that their school runs effectively too, without the problematic teacher.
At T village, which is even more remote and he used stories. A time to sow, a time to reap, a time to eat mangoes, a time for jundungo (a local beans). Seasons come and seasons go. We have been here for a season, now it’s time to for the next one. T village actually has other teachers for the school, so hopefully the kids will get classes.
At P village, he talked history. The children of the king would inherit his kingdom, the son of a priest would be the next priest, after him, the child of a goldsmith would learn his trade. Nowadays, systems have changed. A panchayat is elected for 5 years, after that the people vote and a new government is formed. The people of P were quick to grasp his point and asked for a replacement teacher. It has been five years since the last one began, and they thanked him for all his contributions. Now it’s time to move on.
So the guru did his task in a unique way, drawing on the experiences of the people, telling parables and building consensus. As for the rest of us, we laughed the next day, when we heard his reports of these meetings. But we watch and we learn.