"Lodhar School Site visit report"
Lodhar School Site visit report: Date: 14th July 2009 Madhav Ranganathan. I went to Lodhar school around noon by cycle from IIT Kanpur campus. To get to the school we pass through the village of Nankari and then go through some fields to get to Lodhar village. I had been to the Lodhar school a few times, so I am quite well versed with the route. Nankari village is right outside IIT Kanpur gate, but in many ways, it is in a different world. The streets are very narrow and the roads can hardly be called roads. They are either unpaved or have concrete blocks with large spaces between them. There are open drains along all the streets. This is my least liked part of the bicycle ride to Lodhar village. After getting to the other end of the village, I go around some houses and into the fields. Here, we go along a path for about 1 km till we hit the "road" to Lodhar village. This road is basically a brick path, extremely bumpy cycle ride. All roads in Lodhar village are brick paths. The school is at one end of the village. Somehow today, the ride seems longer and more rough. The weather was extremely humid with some sun, very oppressive indeed. On the way to the school, I passed the government school and heard the sound of children. The government school is just about 50 mts from Lodhar school. It has a nice green building and seems fairly spacious. When I got to the school, the classes were going on and the children seemed fairly well behaved. I went to meet the principal and a teacher Raju Gaur who works in the Jagriti Office. I had called Raju to get the older project proposals and reports, so he obliged by bringing them to school on a USB stick. The school principal, Annapoorna, and the school teachers are all very friendly and all the children seem to like them. In the office, Annapoorna started talking to me. She wanted my opinion on scheduling activities for older children (6-8). These activities include craft work, computers, and making small articles. The problem was that, in the children's school schedule, they could not find activity time that was distinct from those of the smaller children. I somehow felt that it is not a good idea to take away their playing time; so instead, as suggested by Annapoorna, we reduced the Sanskrit classes to accomodate their activities. Annapoorna showed me the school schedule for the entire week. It seemed quite intense, but I was happy with the other activities and play time. The electricity situation in the village was quite bad. The week I was there, they had electricity at night and not during the day. This situation is reversed every alternate week. I was sweating from head to toe just sitting in the office. And one of the problems is that even when the electricity does come, it is usually much less than 220 volts. This summer was extremely hot and the rains were delayed and there have been problems all over India with power. Often the power fluctuation is beyond the range of voltage stabilizers. For the current year (2009-10), there was a huge request for admissions. The school increased its intake to 300 students from about 240 last year. Even so, they had to turn down many students. The 12 students of Apna Ghar hostel, run by Asha Fellow Mahesh, left the school to join RK mission school in Kanpur, since it went all the way until 12th 1 standard. They had collected their leaving certificates in the morning. Lodhar school teachers feel that having more than 35-40 students in a class is very difficult. In fact, they do not even have benches for that many students. During the summer, they had done some renovations in the school as we had discussed earlier, especially supporting the windows with a mesh. This was essential since sometimes, other children in the village would hurl stones that would break the windows. There was also some renovation with the main signboard which had collapsed during a storm. Further the children had planted a bunch of trees in the school and these trees were protected by bricks. Also, most importantly, the school land was levelled so that water did not collect during the rains. It was good to see all these works that were done in time. We had talked about these with the principal earlier in the year. I asked the principal about the government school in the village. She told me that it has a good building, but no teachers or children. Officially, the school has about 35 students per class registered but not more than 20 students are present in the entire school on any given day, and on most days, there are no teachers or principal in the school. The students get a meal everyday and get about Rs. 400 per year for enrolling in the school. Further, the school needs to show attendance registers in order for their teachers to get their salaries. So, the school officials go and recruit people to show up on certain days when the school inspection is on. She also told me that the school principal makes Rs.22500 per month. Further Annapoorna said that even children who come from 5th standard cannot read words with even two successive alphabets. I do not have any independent verification of these facts so I will check with others. After that, Raju gave me the documents containing all the previous proposals and the donations. Finally, the principal and I discussed the prospect of a savings scheme for the teachers. This is something that has been in the pipeline and something that we need to consider. For a year or so the teachers had collected funds and Jagriti was expected to match them in a savings/pension scheme. The teachers have been asking me to start something on those lines. We thought of starting this in the bank using a joint account with one of the teachers and Brunda (my wife). But, we want to find out whether it is possible to get some support from the organization for this scheme. This will help retain teachers and keep them from more lucrative jobs elsewhere. I think this is something Asha can also help in, but we have to work out the modalities of such a scheme, especially the legal ones. I spent about an hour in the school before heading back to IIT Kanpur. The following day, my friend and colleague Priya Ranjan and I were discussing this problem and he suggested getting a solar panel at least for the computers. Making the entire school solar will take about 1.5 lakhs, but a single installment can cost as little as Rs. 25000. If the school teachers and Asha are OK with this, we would like to try this and see how it works. 2