Guest blog by Educate for Life’s Iona-Jane Harris

We are very excited to share a blog written by Iona-Jane Harris who is one of the Directors of Educate for Life. This is an incredible British charity working at grassroots level in India. More specifically, Educate for Life have been successfully created, alongside local partners and some outstanding Indian teachers, a “model rural school” near Udaipur in Rajasthan.  That school is Hunar Ghar. Iona-Jane is just back from a visit to the school and reports on what she’s found.  

Hunar Ghar school in India

by Iona-Jane Harris

In October 2018, I had the opportunity to visit Hunar Ghar School. For the past three years, Hazel’s Footprints Trust has kindly funded the salaries of two teachers at Hunar Ghar, an innovative primary school situated in a remote rural community in northern India. Each teacher is responsible for a class of approximately 30 children, supporting them with their learning and understanding of the government curriculum as well as helping them to develop into well-rounded individuals.

I first visited the school in January 2016. Nearly three years later, I was struck again by the incredible rapport between students and teachers at the school. Children at Hunar Ghar come from extremely deprived homes. Most are the first in their families to come to school, they have no books at home and their parents are unable to help them with their studies.

Attracting teacher talent

I spent some time with one of the English teachers at Hunar Ghar, Kailash. He could not emphasise enough how different Hunar Ghar is to other schools in India.

Kailash was working in a private school in a town called Rohida, which is about 45 minutes drive away from Bakhel, the village where Hunar Ghar is situated. He used to spot another teacher passing by his school on his motorbike each day and wondered where he was going. So, he made some inquiries and found the teacher was heading to Hunar Ghar. Then, he asked if he could come to observe some lessons at the school. Doing this made him really want to join the team.

The Hunar Ghar Difference

Kailash has been at Hunar Ghar for two years now. In his own words, he believes he has “the best job in the world”. He described himself to me as a “nation builder”. He spoke with eloquence and compassion about the need for children growing up in Bakhel to have access to education.

I asked if he had seen many changes at the school in the past couple of years and Kailash spoke highly of the training and support he had received. He was very open that this has changed his perspective on how he teaches. In particular, the social and emotional training provided by one of our partners, Apni Shala, helped him see the children more as individuals than before. He is now more conscious that each has their own different talents and abilities. The training helped him create space in his classroom for children to speak and share what is happening in their lives. With this, he’s found ways to ensure that when a child is struggling with one aspect of their learning, there will be other areas in which they can really shine.

An inclusive approach

This focus on valuing children as individuals really permeates the whole school atmosphere. Sadly, in India, a tribal community such as Bakhel is a community to be snubbed, ignored and looked down upon. In contrast, the team at Hunar Ghar see the needs of the community and the potential of children who are living there.

The team makes every effort to encourage children to come to school and to learn to the best of their ability. This also gives them the chance to play and have fun. That’s why we’ve made the classrooms interactive spaces and why all children participate. Teachers use innovations like lollipop sticks with the children’s names on them to make sure that everyone has a fair chance to write on the board or answer a question. It may sound simple, but this is not normal practice in rural schools in India. Learning by rote and through fear is sadly the dominant methodology.

Taking turns by lollipop stick

Learning beyond the classroom

At Hunar Ghar, children learn in their classrooms. However, they also learn outside of their classrooms through regular community learning mornings. In this way they get to understand a topic from the government curriculum in more detail and in the context of their own lives and environment. One example is in plant science. This topic is brought to life by a visit to a cotton field where the farmer showed the children how he hand pollinates the plants.

I went with Class 4 on this excursion. It was wonderful to see how the teacher facilitated the children learning first from the community member, and then from one another. The class sat in the shade of a tree to draw the cotton plant and then recalled the information they had learnt by one pupil taking on the role of the teacher and asking questions of his classmates.

Sometimes it’s the little things

It’s hard to express what made the greatest impression on me. Was it the gleam and excitement  in a six year old’s eyes when he saw he could unfold his library book to make a giant picture? Or two girls giggling as they tried to keep a shuttlecock in the air while playing badminton during a PE lesson? This is a new feature of the school time table this year.

Perhaps it was the two three year olds, not yet old enough to be at school, walking hand in hand down the steps from Hunar Ghar, each clutching in their other hand a bag of food to take home to their families. These children had just eaten their fill at lunch time alongside the students. They were just 2 of about 50 extra children who, as non-students from the local area, are fed at Hunar Ghar each day.

I won’t forget the affection in Kailash’ eyes as he surveyed the students around us as he spoke to me. Similarly, I won’t forget the beaming smile that lit up his face when I asked him what he liked about Hunar Ghar and the pride in his voice when he answered.

Lunch visitors

Badminton PE lesson

Progress will continue

Thank you for your support over the past three years. Our teachers underpin everything that is achieved at Hunar Ghar. Having spent a week with the team, I remain as confident as ever in Hunar Ghar. This progress comes from believing in them and creating new ways to learn and understand the world all around.

Library time

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *