Shri Yamdagni Rishi Public School in Kharadi has 85 pupils and 10 teachers. The hours are from 7.30 – 13.00 in the summer and I have 4 lessons for the first session until 10.00 when we have a 30-minute break for tiffin and tea. After that I have 4 sessions of 30 minutes and then finish at 12.30.
The school is based in what was an old house and conditions are not ideal. There is no electricity, not enough desks and chairs for all the classes so that the infants and first class sit on rugs on the veranda of the house. Most classrooms have a blackboard and the teaching is very much based in a workbook and board work written in notebooks. The dirt on the floors and walls you become completely oblivious to; however, two of the rooms in the middle of the house are so dark, even on a sunny day, that I have resolved to paint them white. Classroom 2 was painted last weekend by the volunteers and we have done half of class 5 this weekend. I have to mention that another classroom is in an old traditional house next to the school and it is over a cow byre – to get into the classroom you have to circumnavigate a pile of rock and some crumbling steps.
The teachers are a very committed group of people and I have established a good rapport with them even though communication is not always easy as my command of Hindi is limited. It is remarkable that in this remote and tiny village, the children walk for 45 minutes to an hour down from their hill villages perched high above in the surrounding mountains and they study in English and Sanskrit. Most of the children come from poor rural families. They have financial help from the government and it is amazing to see the children lined up for morning assembly in their white shirts and green trousers or skirts, complete with tie – it seems very out of keeping with the Indian traditional dress.
The aim of the school and the organisation I am working with, is to get as many rural children as possible into the education system and that by improving their standard of education they can improve their lot. Education is something that is held in high esteem in India and teachers are respected members of society. Indeed, you can imagine my surprise on my first visit to the school when all the children who walked past me bent to touch my feet. It was explained to me that this is a traditional mark of respect to gurus. It made me think of teacher – pupil relations in England and the huge difference in the level of respect shown. Discipline is fierce here and the children have been taught to stand up when a teacher enters the room and they do not sit down until told to do so. Sadly, my classes have been left standing for some time and they occasionally have to ask me if they can sit! I have noted that teachers do not hesitate to issue a smack or clip round the ear – when students say sorry they pull both of their own ears as a sign of remorse.
I am tasked with teaching English for which I am qualified with a TEFL that I gained before going to live in Portugal in 1989. What a useful bit of paper that has been and I certainly never guessed that it would be my passport to the Himalayas.
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