Has been listening to the online digital learning too much that I wanted to try my hand at it. Two driving forces to embark on the journey – one is that I can relax tomorrow if I work today philosophy (!!) and I can reach large number of students with one-time hard work. There were innumerable other factors that prompted to take the extra effort – the UGC mandate to give few online courses, UGC guideline to go for blended mode, giving autonomy to learner, giving a safe environment to learn by choosing the time and style as per individual demand, promoting self learning, providing opportunity for self assessment, encouraging safe expression platform to all learners, many more to add to the list. For sure these are not Covid driven throughts!! But for sure, Covid made us think of it seriously pushing us into action.
My journey started with taking up an online course on Moodle LMS by IIT Madras in collaboration with Bodoland University. The course not just guided me into the know how of developing courses online but also impressed with the audio and video lessons and online assessment. I was highly inspired by the way the course was designed.
Two of my friends from University of St Francis, with their experience of putting few courses of study compulsorily online since the past decade, roped in to bring the thought to India knowing its immense potentiality. Pulled in two youngsters who had passion to develop courses online as well as had the technical know how of creating the LMS in a resource depleted higher education scenario in India.
The work started with the motto that beginning is more important than quality. This put me at ease to refine my existing power point presentations into the course Childhood and growing up the course I had in B Ed first semester. I was taking online classes to the same batch and was noticing few students had difficulties to be connected continuously due to network connections. I started putting the PPTs with few reflective questions in the learning portal. I was surprised to find a good number of students responding quickly to the reflective questions. Collected few short videos that had aspects reflecting concepts of the unit. Those videos were given as view and respond. Students started uploading their answers/reflections to the questions/discussion points raised in the video description.
By this time the batch of students were called to the offline classes. It was an opportunity that LMS created to flip the classroom, to use the face to face contact only for discussion on questions, doubts raised by students. The need to give points of discussion in a lecture mode got automatically restricted. That put the role of teacher from speaker to listener which was welcome move!! Students came out happily to ask their queries, doubts, arguments openly. Those students who were not very articulate in class either due to language barrier or social barrier chose to express themselves freely in the discussion forum of the LMS.
With this experience another course I am teaching for the M Ed first years on Psychology of development and learning was organized in the learning platform with the few power point presentations.
At this juncture we had to send the same batch of B Ed students to their school exposure and multicultural placement in selected schools. There are five activities to be taken up by students during their fifteen days of school experience. One among them is ‘case study’. Students are briefed on all the activities by different faculty members in a one or two days pre conference. My responsibility was to orient the students and prepare them to do the case study. With a very brief interaction with students in the session, gave them the code to join the course online. Prepared a short video as introductory information on case study. A power point to give information on what is case study, why is it important for a teacher preparation programme and how to dot it that was available was refined and added to the course. The recorded class on briefing the students of previous batch was uploaded for further view for more clarity and details. The format to report with example was prepared that was put in the portal for the benefit of students. The same activity is in the four year integrated programmes of the institute B A B Ed and B Sc B Ed. I just had to generate different codes for the different batches and share with students during the face to face interaction session. A question and answer forum was created in the course so that students can post their query if any. This was informed to students in the session. I felt highly empowered and satisfied as the resources available were already floated in the online classroom. The same design was useful for three different courses of students. What is more comforting is that for the batches to come in future the course remains organized and I can improve upon it as and when I get interesting materials and as and when I get time to relook into the example and power point presentation that is in the portal. Experienced great joy when I realized that the resources can be put in drive and any change I make in the file automatically gets changed in the portal. There is no need to go to the portal and edit the material if the resources are directly put in the portal from the drive.
This experience I gained as a teacher educator in the year 2020-2021 is remarkable and has great potentiality to reach large number of students simultaneously. Opportunity to peer interaction opens up the scope for peer learning. Needless to say the motivation for self learning is at its best, with no interference and disturbance by others during learning. Teacher support is made available both online and offline for the comfort of students based on their preference.
The immense potentiality of blended learning is opening up to the faculty at higher education institutes. It is time we embark on this journey slowly but steadily. A technical team to support the faculty and a server of its own by every institute would go a long way in accomplishing this goal. Further faculty members may be given the chance to upgrade their skills to embark on this fascinating journey. The satisfaction of creating a learning experience for a large number of students for years to come where they can learn at their comfort is worth the effort.
Gandhi exposing himself to public and claiming that his life is a open book has made people from every field to analyse him from multiple angles. His strong propositions on brahmacharya, upavas, satyagrah, life of hardship, simple living, food system, eradication of untouchability, trusteeship, education and several other views have been subject to critical analysis. He is discussed on his perspectives on religion, women, modern science, oppressed class far more than anybody, by multi-disciplinary team that lessons of a simple life by an innocent man is missed.
Here is an effort to sketch the elusive Mohan as perceived by his wife Kastur. As we go down the memory lane, we need to make conscious effort not to situate the incidents in the present ecosystem. There are vignettes followed by their analysis and interpretation. I have struggled to keep me out of analysis – as woman / wife and a Gandhi admirer. I acknowledge the resources I used from different websites and two authors Dr Aparna Basu of Kasturba Gandhi and Dr H S Anupama author of I am Kastur.
Vignette 1 Two children got engaged and got married as teenagers. Kastur was given enough lessons in her maternal home as to how to behave after marriage. Mohan was no less in imposing restrictions on his wife. He made several rules in an effort to keep her in his control, one of which is “you can’t go anywhere without my permission’. Listen to me, keep quiet, you don’t know, frequented to the utter irritation of Kastur. But Kastur had her way and did what she wanted to do leading to fights. Once when Kastur went to temple with Puthlibai, Mohan scolded Kastur for not taking permission from him. Kastur asserted “who is elder, you or your mother? Why should there be permission from you to go with the elder of the family? Since then he stopped restricting her.
In a social milieu rooted in inequalities and gender stereotype, a husband was questioned by a wife!!! But this did not mobilize Mohan to harness on the gender based stereotypes and structural and institutional inequalities against Kastur to manipulate the reality, rather it made him reflect on the episode to begin accepting individualism. Mohan could see neither a wife nor a woman in Kastur, but an individual.
Vignette 2. While in South Africa every one in the house had to take turns to do the work. A friend of Mohan was staying with them and Kastur could not accept to clean the toilet of the guest and expressed her reluctance to do so. Mohan got so angry that he pulled Kastur out of the house saying choose to stay or go away, I will not tolerate this differentiation towards others. Kastur though cried initially, gained courage to ask Mohan are you not ashamed of putting me out of the house in a foreign land? The angry man suddenly stopped his screaming. Both realised their mistakes and apologised with each other. That was the last time Mohan showed his anger on his wife. Mohan realised that his behaviour was very cheap to punish an individual when they are vulnerable.
This instance revealed to Mohan how abusers mobilize structural vulnerabilities related to race, nationality, and sexuality; and institutional inequalities against victims to erode their realities. These are cruel tactics to rely on the association of vulnerability with irrationality. Kastur mirrored Mohan of his action being opposite to the cause he is fighting in South Africa.
Gandhi understands that pain is not just in jail tortures and physical insults, pain is also in humiliation and subjugation of the vulnerable. It is for that pain that Gandhi speaks again and again. His biography is towards his strive to become Bapu: the caring perosn for all. A figure that truly wants to embrace humanity, not “being human in the shadows worldly pleasures and inborn weaknesses”.
Vignette 3. In the Satyagraha Ashram Kastur was a commanding lady with, sharp and firm voice. She had heavy job on her hands to cook for and feed, besides her family some more people in the Ashram. She was a most demanding leader and would keep the helpers in kitchen on your toes. There would often be a crowd of unexpected guests at the Ashram, then the ‘political capital’ of India. Kastur would sometimes clash with Mohan while he used to bring guests untimely and without informing in the Kitchen. So Mohan used to be nervous on these occasions. Mohan on such occasions would be very humble and tactful. He was then a little afraid of Kastur. One day just after Kastur and her young assistant had washed up after lunch and closed the kitchen, Mohan quickly approached the kitchen and reckoned to the kitchen assistant who was about to leave. He spoke in a whisper so as not to disturb Kastur taking rest in the adjoining room. A number of guests, he announced, were to arrive in an hour, very distinguished guests, among whom was the late Pandit Motilal Nehru, for whom lunch had to be prepared.
He put a finger to his lips as he glanced at Kastur’s room. ‘Do not disturb her, Summon some one, light the fire, chop the vegetables and knead the flour for the chapaties. Send for Kastur only when she is needed. He had the look of some innocent conspirator. The young assistant and helper opened the kitchen noiselessly. Suddenly a brass plate crashed to the floor to wake Kastur and she rushed to the kitchen. She was surprised to see the kitchen in full action at the odd hour. She demanded to know what it was all about. ‘Why did you not send for me?’ she demanded, ‘You think I cannot manage this extra work?’ It was all smooth sailing thereafter. She knew Mohan had arranged the whole thing. At night, after prayers, when all the guests had left, she faced him unexpectedly. She stood before him and a mischievous light in her eyes.
‘Why did you ask them to do the work without me? You think I am lazy?
Mohan replied with all innocence Don’t you know, I am afraid of you on such occasions?”
The anecdote speaks of a deep bond in Mohan – Kastur relationship that is built on friendship, care and mutual respect. Gandhi as a person not only respects women, feels their struggle at home and in the society, be it at the time of menstruation or bearing and rearing of a child, or putting together household chores to take time and weave in the charkha.
Vignette 4. The forth anecdote that I would like to narrate is that of Mahadev Desai’s wife and Kastur visiting the Jagannath temple when they visited Odisha on a mission on Swaraj, one goal being educating the mass against untouchability. Mohan comes to know of the visit is deeply saddened. It is his wee years, now he does not scold Kastur anymore like he used to in their early married years. Kastur later reflects on her husband’s feelings and action and feels them vibrating inside her that “she need not visit a temple that practices untouchability”.
Thus after a time, the beliefs, the causes, and soul of Mohan and Kastur became the very belief system, cause and soul of both, they became one. They learned from each other, they grew old together, lived their dream of a free India together and they continue to live in this free India together in the hearts of every Indian. Wish they continue to live in every human being by starting a new tradition of respect, care and concern in every intimate relationship, learning from each other in the path of attaining self-actualisation.
As a sociological phenomenon macro-level social inequalities get transformed into micro-level strategies. But Mohan could transcend to Mahatma by applying the micro level strategies to fight the social inequalities and the lessons learnt on individualism helped to build collectivism. Sociologically placing this phenomenon in its cultural, structural, and institutional contexts would give a new perspective to human relationships and development. This is the lesson we can learn from the simple life of Mohan and Kastur while analysing the Perspective of Mahatma on women.
(Mahatma from Kastur’s perspectives, views expressed in the one – day webinar on Gandhi and Women conducted by centre for women’s studies Pondicherry University on 18th August 2020).
I search for words to glorify agony in gloom
Cries of my fellow human beings worldwide is loud.
Warriors on the roads and hospitals risking lives
Their families under constant threat.
Siblings in the boarders unperturbed by heat and dust
Waging a war that is different, to their best.
Children locked in countries unknown
Chasing dreams of everyone.
Lots to do! in home, from home, for home.
Posterity I owe you a better abode
Few minutes spent with Mr Murugan on my way back from Kohima on 25th July 2019 enriched me as a teacher educator. What is special about Murugan? He won National Award for Teachers in September 2018, a Tamilian representing Nagaland.
After being in the 2018 state selection committee for the National Award to Teachers, I was in the committee again for the 2019 teacher selection. During the process of selection I expressed with the Principal secretary, Ministry of Education and the Director School education, that we could have invited the last year’s winner at the National level. They immediately arranged my meeting with him on my way back to Dimapur airport the following day. He reached Chumukedima High School from his school Peren at 11 am and I reached the school on time. The Principal Ms Karen Sema was pleasantly surprised and showed her eagerness to listen to our conversation when she came to know the background of our visit to her school.
Journey of Murugan from Tirunelveli to Peren is unimaginable, more so his journey from an ordinary teacher to a national award winning teacher. Murugan lost his father when he was 12 years old. Being the eldest son with three brothers and three sisters he has seen the struggle to earn money for feeding the family and to study. He vividly remembers how the siblings used to work in tobacco packing for 50 paisa per day during 1980. That was the daily wage for children while women would get Rs 2 and men Rs 3. His mother used to work there and during holidays and vacation children would join her so that they could continue their education. From 1984 to 86 while studying in plus 2, he found black topping on the road a high earning job with Rs 13 per day. There was an incentive of Rs 2 for those who were fast and would do more work. Murugan without fail earned Rs 15 with his swift movement, not because he was so but because of the Rs 2 incentive. Saved money and continued education to become a graduate with chemistry honours, math and physics. Though he was fond of Mathematics from the school days, took chemistry major only because his teacher said Chemistry honours has more scope of getting job in industries compared to Mathematics. His only focus was to get a job as soon as possible and help his younger siblings and mother a better life.
By the time he completed graduation from Kanyakumari Vivekananda college he had 20 options written in his dairy to work in which the last was server in hotel. During such dire need for salary few of his friends talked to him about demand for Mathematics teachers in Nagaland. Without much details he boarded the weekly train to Guwahati from where he reached Nagaland and entered a Baptist school at Oka for Rs 700 per month as salary. He narrated his 5 days train journey with out reservation on a unreserved compartment in the upper birth. He did not think of anything as that was a big money for him he could save maximum and send home. His flair for teaching earned him good name and respect from the villagers. Within two years the head master of the school moved to another private school, forcibly took Murugan for double the salary. In the mean time there was a written exam for Nagaland Government teacher’s post which we qualified and got appointed in 1992. In 1995 competed B. Ed. from Annamalai University. He was happy to get a government job and his satisfaction of being a teacher continued in spite of remaining as a contractual employee till 2006. As per the Government of Nagaland policy if any local person qualifies for the same post for which a non local is already appointed, the job would automatically get cancelled. With such risk he stayed on as he liked the local people, his love for teaching Mathematics to young kids and of course the salary.
In his was sailing through his professional life, he got married, has two children, studying in his native place. He goes home twice in a year. All his siblings are married and well settled. Mother lives in the village with one of the brother.
As a teacher he finds complete satisfaction in teaching Mathematics to his school children. His innings from making effort to understand Zeliang (the tribal language) ‘chima’ (don’t know) and ‘kethe chima’ (don’t know anything) to ‘chitha le’ (I know) and ‘thouda le’ (I got it) has brought the National award to this passionate teacher. He is well versed with several tribal languages and Nagamese. He has become one with the local community. He is proud to say that some of his students are his colleagues in the same school now. He has adapted to the food and climate of Peren and the serene surrounding. He feels uncomfortable when he goes to his hometown due to the extreme heat there.
He remembers his mother and her struggle, the freedom she gave her children to go the way they think is the best for their family. Only because of her fearless farewell when he boarded the train to Nagaland he could work without any doubt and establish himself in a distant land that is unknown and little connected with India geographically and culturally.
– Eshitha Dey, B.Ed. 2nd Year (2017-2019 batch)
Gopabandhu Hostel has always been a hub of various activities whenever it comes to celebrations of different kinds of festivals or memorable days. Likewise, on the occasion of Matri Bhasa Diwas or International Mother Language Day, the Hostel Warden Prof. I P Gowramma ma’am had asked for participation and engagement from the hostel boarders to come forward with various cultural activities. For this purpose, the responsibility of organizing and managing the programme was handed over to the B.Ed. 2nd year girls, who happen to be the senior-most and the outgoing batch of the hostel. The B.Ed. cultural in-charge, Sohini Das accordingly had called a meeting of their batch to have preliminary discussions first regarding the organization of the programme. After the collection of the names of participants from the entire hostel who were interested to perform different kinds of activities in different languages, the cultural in-charge handed it over to the slated anchor of the programme, Eshita Dey from B.Ed. (Humanities) 2nd year to take the programme forward in her own manner.
On 21st February, the day of Matri Bhasa Diwas, all the hostel boarders assembled in the Hostel Common Room by 8:10 p.m and after the arrival of the Warden Ma’am, the programme started sharp at 8:15 p.m. The anchor of the programme, Eshita welcomed all the hostel boarders to the celebration of the International Mother Language Day by recitating the first para of the iconic Bengali song “Ekusher Gaan” (Song of the 21st) penned by Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, the song which led the Language Movement of Bangladesh. She went on to explain how today’s generation knows very little about the legendary language movement which made the international community to not only sit up and take notice, but also accord the movement the well-deserved honor as International Mother Language Day by UNESCO. There is no nation in the world which fought and sacrificed their life for their mother tongue. She further added that after the liberation of Bangladesh in 16th December 1971, this language movement has since being observed as Language Movement Day or Shaheed Dibosh or Martyrs’ Day. She informed the audience that the theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day is indigenous languages as a factor in development, peace and reconciliation.
Eshita went on to proffer that the day was an important day, especially for our country given that literally no other nation of this world has so much diversity in languages, which in fact enriches the culture manifold. She explained through examples the several spoken and written dialects within a single language. Like in Bengali, there are literary variants like Shadhubhasha & Choltibhasha and spoken variants in the form of Bongali, Rajbangshi, Raribangla, etc. In Odia, there are dialects like Sambhalpuri, Mugalbandi, Bauda Bhatri, Kosli, Bodo Praja, Reli, Kupia etc. In Hindi, numerous dialects like Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Bundeli, Garhwali, Haryanvi and so on can be found.
After such an informative session, she went on to take the programme forward by inviting Smrutiparna Majhi from B.Sc. B.Ed. 3rd year to start the evening with an Odia Song. She took it a step further by singing a slew of melodious Odia songs to lend a musical ambience to the evening. After such a start to the evening, Eshita opened the recitation segment of the evening with the first performance by Jyoti Pragya, B.Ed (Science) 2nd year. Much to the loud appraises from the audience, she recitated some meaningful Hindi two-liners, drawing huge cheers from the audience.
Kuntala Sabat. The poetess happens to be the first female medical student of Odisha, who unfortunately passed away at a very young age. The poem recounts her struggles in the form of a metaphor of a flower, which has a lifespan of just a day but has a mesmerizing fragrance. The poem meant to put across the message that whatever be one’s lifespan, it should be meaningful and significant enough to be remembered. (Later, after a quick prompt from one member of the audience, everyone got to know that the flower is cinchona flower. Cinchona, as fact would have it, is the flower which is used in the treatment for malaria)
Next up for performance was a Bengali poem recitation by Soniya from B.Ed (Humanities) 1st year. She recitated the poem, “Ekushe February” by Aal Mahmud. The poem succinctly tells us about the 21st February which has been the witness of the sacrifice by hundreds, for their mother language. The sacrifice being made, must not be seen as just for the protection of their identity, but as their duty to their Mother, the land where they were born, to lay down their lives if needed to save Her, her language. After the goosebumps-inducing recitation, she thanked the anchor (Eshita) for providing her with the epic poem in the first place for the recitation.
The last poem recitation of the evening was performed by Ekata Mandal, B.Ed (Science) 2nd year. She received a Bengali poem “Tyaaj” (Zeal) by Debobrata Singha. She recitated the poem in Bankri, rural sub-dialect of the Bankura district of West Bengal. Drawing gasps from the audience for her meticulous pronunciation of the dialect and an emotive recitation, Ekata made the evening more terrific by choosing the very poem itself. The poem talks about a girl who belongs to be kameenkhata (household slave) family, who has stood first in her 10th standard exams. She could do it for the inspiration provided by her father, who repeatedly told her to not be submissive, even if you’re born in a low-caste family. He persuaded her to win always, even when her mother and her grandmother had a regressive and submissive mindset. When the reporters praised the girl telling her, girls like you make the nation proud, she made the statement saying, rising against all the struggles, creating one’s own path isn’t that easy. It takes a lot of zeal (and thus, the title of the poem).
And with that, ended the poem recitation segment of the programme. The musical part of the programme, especially presented by the B.Ed 2nd year girls, now began with the first performance by Namita Pradhan from Science, who beautifully sang an Odia song “Tate Na Dekhile Kemiti Bachibi Maa”. On further request, she related the meaning of the song to her personal experience of this hostel. When she first came, despite being an Odia, she didn’t know the alphabets and didn’t know how to speak in Odia as well. On the persistence of her friends, now she has not only got the hang of it, but also recently passed a competitive exam in Odia, drawing a round of applause from the audience. Even while she was singing, her Odia friends could be seem getting emotional, given that not much time is left for the batch to return where they have come from.
The next song was presented by Aditi Maiti from B. Ed. (Humanities), who sang a Bengali song, “Bhenge More Ghorer Chaabi”, written by Rabindranath Tagore which literally means, freedom should not be in cages. Everyone has the right to freedom to live as they want and it is the duty of the humanity to free people from any kind of societal bondages. Since the song she had selected is a popular Bengali song, many Bengali boarders could be seen lip-syncing the lyrics of the song along with Aditi, which made it sound more like a chorus, much to the delight of the Hostel Warden.
The last song was sung by Santoshini Pradhan, who is a visually-challenged yet musically talented girl from Humanities. She sang an Odia song, “Jayadevi Janmabhoomi”, which praises the beauty of the nature that is the gift of motherland. It speaks of the martyrs who have sacrificed their life and seeking love and power from the motherland. The song also speaks of the ray of hope to protect and to be the winner against all kinds of adversities.
Just when the anchor (Eshita) was going to request the Warden to say a few words regarding the programme, the cultural in-charge, Sohini asked Eshita to present her Marathi cupsong, for which she is famous for, in their batch. Before performing, Eshita explained the origin of the cupsong, of how it had originally been a part of an English movie, but later incorporated with Indian languages led by Mithila Palkar, an actress. Performing before an audience for the first time, she used a cup for providing beats to the Marathi song “Hi Chal Turu Turu” which refers to the movements and activities of a cat. Amidst pin-drop silence, with only the beats and the song being heard softly, her performance drew huge round of applause from the audience.
On inviting Hostel Warden ma’am to speak a few words on the programme, she talked and praised each and every performances by the participants, eager to know more about the recitations and the songs which were presented. On being requested and further coaxing from the Cultural Secretary, Anshu and the anchor, Eshita, to sing a song in her mother language, Warden ma’am finally gave in and before singing, gave us an introduction to her mother language. She informed how her mother language, Kodava, a language belonging to the Dravidian Family and based in Coorg, is a fast extinguishing language and has been listed as an endangered language, with only 1 lakh speakers in India. She further explained the language structure and what makes it one of the most difficult languages to learn. She related her personal memorable experience of singing a Kannada song in one of the workshops in Hindi dominated belt, she had attended and how she had been stumped when someone from the audience picked up the song from where she had left. She actually had goosebumps while recollecting the incident, while the boarders were waiting with bated breath on the privilege of hearing the Warden sing for the first time. She sang the Kannada song, “Nityotsava” and the tone so soft and melodious that when she stopped singing, the applause went for quite some time. Amidst cheers from the audience, one of the rare moments of the history could be witnessed when the Warden ma’am could actually be seen blushing and reeling from the responses from her boarders.
And with that, the programme of International Mother Language Day celebration in Gopabandhu Hostel came to an end which oversaw a milieu of languages being spoken and talked about together, in the same platform, truly bringing justice to the day.
Written by Ms. Eshitha Dey.
She is student of B.Ed. 2nd year (2017-2019 batch) at Regional Institute of Education, Bhubaneswar. This batch had taken reponsibility of organising “Matribhasha Diwas” in Gopabandhu Hostel.
Black board and chalk are personification of a classroom. Scores of years ago the term was used as a symbol of infrastructure in elementary school (Operation blackboard). Alas it is missing in our classrooms today in the name of progress, development and advancement. This basic time tested, economical, environment friendly facility is being replaced by “white board and marker”. The sob story of this deadly combination is killing the simple pleasures of teachers and children in school and power of teacher educator and weapon of student teacher in a teacher education institute.
Running from pillar to post to get the markers issued in a system, the hard found markers running out of ink soon, frequent borrowing by well-meaning colleagues add to the agony. The first word is clear on the white board but as it goes further colour fades gradually ending with nothing. Those who are seated in the last bench in a classroom of hundred are the sufferers not to say about those with low vision if any.
For those with environmental consciousness throwing the markers with dried up ink is always a dilemma. The happiness of using coloured chalk for diagrams (especially for life science), for highlighting (for technical words, for new vocabulary, for pronunciation), for making meaning of concepts (chemical bond, litmus test for acid base) is no more possible. The personal touch teacher gives to the letter, word and phrase with different coloured chalks is no more a solace. Children using the friendly space with imagination soaring till the teacher enters, the space to put out aggression if any in the form of drawing and writing no more exists. Schools are becoming as mechanical as whiteboard and marker. Black board please come back to my class, I will walk without guilt and doubt towards you with a chalk for we build a bond one-to-one; one-to-many at the same time. BB and C we love you.
As part of the research project on Buddhist educational institutions got an opportunity to enter the beautiful landscape of Chandragiri in Gajapathi district of Odisha not as a tourist but as a learner. It was indeed an excellent journey through the mysteries of monasteries, monks and momos. It was more of development of self in the journey than the study, the best part of taking up research projects.
27th November early morning reached Chandragiri by bus from Bhubaneswar. Monk Neyku was waiting for us in the misty darkness to pick us. In the wilderness he drove us the ten kilometres into the camp 4 monastery guest house Ripo. Entered the chilled room into the bed and blanket equally chill to rest without moving our body after the roller coaster ride of sleeper bus. With special Tibetan hand made bread with peas masala for breakfast felt comfortable as with it the sun rays entered straight into the room, relieving the overnight blues. With all energy entered temple of their learning Padma Sambhava Maha Vihar – Rigon Thupten Mindolling Monastery. Inside life of the students is as unique as the name it holds. There are 200 students approximately age ranging from 5 years to 23 years. Age of admission is 5 years. Those who join irrespective of the age are put in junior 1. The class they have are called as junior 1 to 9 and senior 1 to 9 thus having 18 years of education. If a student completes 18 years in the learning they get degree equivalent to doctoral. They follow the syllabus of their Thupten board and the degree awarding body is the Central Tibetan Administration. The students who complete their education at any stage can leave the monastery and work as per the requirement of the group. They join as teachers in any monastery, they go to preach in and outside India depending on the invitation. They are willing to share their knowledge in any forum. Initial learning is Tibetan language, English and numbers. Once they master by completing 18 years of study in the monastery, they start teaching their religious literature. There is wealth of literature in the Buddhist philosophy that are explored by the senior students.
28th November – visited the central Tibetan school. The I/c principal gave us the information of the school and its philosophy. The Dalai Lama means an ocean of knowledge. They are the spiritual people to spread the Buddhist philosophy. Anni are female spiritual teachers taking similar responsibility. One Anni is appointed in the school and she takes classes on the religion, about Tibet, their freedom struggle and vision for their country. In their time table there is three periods per week for every grade for spiritual lessons. Anni takes those classes. She is appointed by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dharamsala. They are appointed on contractual basis and are paid by the school authorities. Since 2001 Tibetans are not taken as teachers on regular basis. There are teachers who teach Tibetan language, music, dance and art, from Tibetan community and all are working on contractual basis. Initially there were 73 schools under the central government, the Central Tibetan School and now there are only 14. The rest are being taken over by the CTA.
From one of the camps (number 5) 14 children from monastery are sent to the Central Tibetan school. The principal finds them very disciplined and good at studies. Many delegates come from European and American countries and set up their projects in the Tibetan settlement. They have set up a cultural centre, hospital and some small scale industries. They use the Tibetan medicines in the hospitals. The locality also has other hospitals and dental clinics set up by project funds. World wide there is Tibetan refugee fund set up for the cause of Tibetan that flow into the camps. Usually during winter parents go on selling warm clothes in different parts of the country. Hostels are set up by these donors to provide accommodation, food, help in studies for their children during this time. Care takers are appointed and they take classes on moral and spiritual education in the hostel.
The school has classes from 6 up to class 10. After they complete class 10 students are sent to other schools where plus 2 is available. Only three central Tibetan schools have science stream. Depending upon the availability of seats and interest of students the decision will be made in the camp by the respective camp leaders in consultation with the other leaders of the camp. Many students are found to be entering into hotel management and nursing.
The central Tibetan school goes out for competition in the inter CBSE meets of sports and culture. They have opportunities to go on field trips to local spots of tourist interest. Everything is free of cost, students need not pay anything in the school.
Camp 3 – exclusively for girls has three Lopen (teachers) and 36 children. Started only 3 years back. Construction work is going on. The teachers come from outside to teach them English, Tibetan. Each room has 4 students, the younger ones are kept with the older so that they are attended to for their daily work. Girls as young as 5 years are there in the monastery. All were in their routine prayer when we visited. They completed their prayer and later spoke to us. Since they are not conversant in Hindi and English it was little difficult for us to continue our discussion. The Lopen were from Nepal, they speak in Nepali and Tibetan. It was clear from their expression that they are not very much exposed to outsiders to develop communication. They live in their own world. Prayer, reading Tibetan literature on Buddhist philosophy and working is the way they spend their entire day. Contact with outside world is too limited.
Camp 1 – students are not there. Only two monks stay there to take care of the monastery. There is an old age home associated with this monastery funded by the Tibetan association. 24 old people are staying there. A community nurse is engaged to take care of their health needs. She stays there from morning 9 to 5 in the evening. Mostly the inmates of the home are widows and those who do not have children. Women are more in number. They spend time listening to their prayer which is played continuously through loud speaker. Their day starts with prayer in the prayer room for an hour. They have a kitchen where appointed cooks preparing food as per their need. Spacious dining room is attached with a small kitchen that are kept very clean.
Camp 2 – monastery is small but very peaceful. Students are not there. Community people look after the monastery. Significant days monks from camp 4 go there to perform the rituals. In a month they observe 2 days as auspicious days celebration of the Buddhist religious rituals. An old man looking after the monastery brought the key to open it for us and helped us to see around. There is a small well equipped kitchen and dining space adjacent to the monastery which is used whenever the monks go there to perform the rituals
Camp 5 – two Lopen and 50 monks are housed in this monastery. The monastery is under construction. Only hostel, kitchen and dining room is ready. All the monks from this monastery attend the regular classes from class one to five in the Sambodha Tibetan Primary school that is run by the Tibetian Association and after class 5 they go to the central Tibetan school till class 10. In the monastery the two Lopen take classes on Buddhist philosophy and religious teaching early in the morning and by 8.30 they are ready to go to school. They get back by 4 in the evening and the lopen will help them in their school related work and in case of difficulty which the Lopen is not able to solve, especially in science and mathematics they call up the school teachers and get the help from them. The students are mostly from Arunachal Pradesh (Bomdilla), few are from Nepal and one student is from the local Chandragiri. Individual choice is taken to enrol in monastery and get spiritual education, still they prefer to keep children from far off place as it is not disturbing them from their routine. If they come from near by places the parents keep visiting them and they also would want to go home often that impedes their academic activities. Many times local students run away to home from monastery. To control such challenges the monasteries prefer to keep children from far off land. Children like general subjects, they are happy to go to the community school, but they face problem in learning mathematics and history. One student expressed that he likes science subject very much. Mr Cheme Youngdoung a retired teacher provides his guidance and service to the monastery and children on voluntary basis.
Visited settlement office and met the officer Mr Chonar Samdup to discuss the background of Tibetan settlement of Chandragiri. The officer talked about settlement of Tibetans in Chandragiri said that since the 60s the settlement has been given by Government of India like in other parts of the country. In this context he also talked about the state goventment has given them land to settle but as of now unlike other settlements developmental work at Chandragiri is scanty. He gave some data of the settlement like total household is 600 plus, population is 2400 approximately spread over the five camps. One significant aspect of the Tibetans at Chandragiri is that they have influenced the local residents to start cultivation of food crops like maize and barley. Another contribution is that because of the Tibetans the local people get employment and there is a mutual learning of language and culture. This centre has become the attraction for tourists and recently the monastery at camp 4 is included in the tourist map of Odisah thus attracting a large number of tourists from the state as well as outside. He quoted the Dalailama’s ideas about the integration of modern subjects in the monastery education. Now lots of development have been planned to make transportation easier through new construction of roads and alternate approaches to the monastery. Most of the youngsters are abroad and their parents are engaged in the business.
However it is noticed that the children in the monastery are shy and do not express anything freely. Probably due to lack of exposure to outer world, they do not even acknowledge the presence of new comers. They seem to be in their own space doing their work meticulously but mechanically. It is noticed that young children in Junior one were responding to our interactions much better than the older children in the monastery. Similarly the teachers of the monasteries were very social and willing to share their life and culture. May be that level of concentration is essential to indulge in serious study of Buddhism. Life in the monastery no doubt makes them disciplined and concentrates on their studies of Buddhist philosophy but restricted their socialisation in the larger community.
Koraput welcomes the visitors from Bhubaneswar to the cool breeze and interior climate to heave a sigh of relief from the hot and humid coastal climate of August. This was a field visit for conducting research to analyse school readiness of children from scheduled tribe (ST) community. Koraput located on a section of the Eastern Ghats has a vast expanse of mountain ranges. The district occupies a unique position in the tribal map of Odisha with 50% of ST population. Nearly 62 types of ST of Odisha have their existence in this district each with a distinct set of values, beliefs and rituals.
An Anganawadi in the interior of Similiguda provided space for our orientation to field investigators. We had to prepare couple of local youth to collect data through the tools that were developed to assess school readiness of children in the cognitive, social and language areas. Unlike other Anganawadis, this one welcomed us to a clean orderly and a huge bunch of bubbling children numbering 36. All the children with their neat uniforms, including their teacher and helper. The room was large enough for the seating of children in a big circle. Open racks on the wall had staked boxes neatly labelled that contained cut outs of alphabets, numbers, beads, seeds and many more. Surprisingly most of the materials were developed by the teacher Basudha (pseudonym) with the help of the helper and others in the neighbourhood with materials available in the surrounding. She took great interest in explaining the materials with all innocence enthusiasm and contentment. She knew her role and was proud of being a part of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) project of the nation.
The pot of drinking water is clean and covered with a plate. The helper gives water to drink poured into a cup whenever a child comes there. There is another pot with water with a mug attached to it to wash hands. The helper insists on washing hands before serving food. Children take a line to the water pot, the helper pours the water to children’s hands, all of them wash with soap and sit in a circle for lunch. Fresh rice and vegetables served to all and they ate without wasting. The helper helped very young children to eat and as soon as all children finished eating, she cleaned the room briskly.
The teacher and the helper along with the members of the community have made the ambience child friendly, healthy and learning oriented. The teacher Basudha was different and I had much to learn from her. She had no complaint on any facility. She has converted the available infrastructure and resources appropriately to suit the working, she takes personal interest in children to see that they come to the centre regularly, smiling non-stop explained her work to us taking care of children engaging them with songs and games. She knew the speciality of every child. One girl was good at acting and because of her she had planned one play wherein the small girl takes the lead role and manages the small group with her. That was a story of a family taking their children to a village fair. Interesting conversation is built in to the play that brings the fair live to the room. Mother takes lead role in controlling unruly children that the young girl has been prepared to. In this process she controls the group for nearly half an hour. During this time the teacher engages the other group on some other activity. The children show great maturity responsibility and comradeship. I realised one person can make a difference. I am sure there are many ‘Basudhas’ in India to move towards realising the objectives of early childhood care and education to reality.
Beautiful drive to Nimalo off Salepur in Cuttack district tough road took three and a half hours from Bhubaneswar. My colleagues and me were on our way to visit Madrasa to learn their way of functioning. From Cuttack, moved along the flow of the majestic Mahanadi, sand bank, canals and scanty livelihood of meager living. Poverty was glaring in a rich landscape.
‘Nimalo’ we reached! our destination, a small town. After several stops and asking the passersby, reached the location with a final powerful guidance by 6-7 year old boy cutting a climber with a knife pointing towards the exact location. A friendly woman in a petty shop realizing our search for something like a school (Madrasa) gave the entry into through an unassuming path. Our visit was with the purpose of gathering data for a research with permission from the authorities. Clear surrounding, fresh smell of boiling rice welcome us to the joy of learning inside.
The head teacher came running humbly, we put his awe to ease by explaining our purpose and requesting their cooperation. Entered the first room after the initial pleasantries with teachers. That was class three with four girls, sitting on the floor, with colorless Urdu books reading with a matching rhythm of the body. Each face was bright, eyes full of aspirations. As my colleagues started with the check list and questionnaires, I engaged those curious minds for 30-40 minutes. They read the book, taught me ‘alim, thhe, phe, …….’ ……’ . I tried writing it on the blackboard, as they observed with happiness the difficulty of an adult to write what is child’s play for them.
After a brief tint of learning Urdu, to put me to comfort asked if they know A, B, C, D, ……. They all said ‘yes’ and started with writing letter dictation – ‘X’, ‘T’ ‘P’….. Began another activity of identifying first letter of their names. Ayesha, ‘A’., Resham ‘R’, Sonia ‘S’, Sania ‘S’ (the identical twins), each one telling a word and write the first letter of the word , ‘Lion’ ‘L’, Apple ‘A’ and so on. I gave Cuttack all said ‘K’, compared with C of words like cut and cake, soon responded enthusiastically saying C. Slowly moved to word writing. Each one saying one word from flower, fruits, vegetables, birds, animals, 20 words were written. When the new words came, played with syllables and they created their own spelling, almost correct like ba/na/na, Jas/mi/ne. it was full time fun. Their teachers also came around and participated in the learning process.
Did not find anyone with visual perceptual difficulty or anyone struggling to identify letters and write words. One girl Reshma wrote D in reverse pattern while writing the word Dog. Allowed her to correct by herself which she could do. No writing difficulty though the writing facility was very non-conducive. They were using very thin, hard tipped cheaper pen, heavy/ long note books, leaning to the floor posture. The class room was clean, well ventilated with a comfortable blackboard which I could use as a supporting material to my spelling class. All the children had sound letter association almost perfect, handwriting legible and readable. Listening comprehension was age appropriate, behavior excellent. Teachers very happy to spend time, watch us as we interacted with children, listening to them, reading and writing with them, singing and dancing with them.
Next we went to the adjacent room that had two groups of students class two and 4-5 as one group in a same room, sitting back to back with two blackboards on the opposite walls. In class 4 and 5 group, some children read Urdu lesson, one boy aspiring to be teacher, read a poem and explained to us in hindi and odiya. Very confidant and he was happy to make us understand the poem. Class two children danced and sang songs. Next room was of class one, some as young as below five years were also there. Some shy, some smart, some outspoken, some different. They all could identify A-Z any letter while asked to recognize in a chart.
The toilet was kept very clean with a tank, bucket, mug, foot ware and a stable door that has a latch both outside and inside. The school has a fence made of laterally opened bamboo shoots covered with plastic bags here and there. One portion similar to the fence opens as gate. A bore-well is located that gives plenty of water throughout the year. The kitchen is open with a metal sheet on the top where a cook and a helper were preparing lunch for the mid day. Boiled eggs, dhall and rice were prepared and covered neatly.
Left the school with bye to the children and teaches by the time all had gathered to see us off. Elders of the village and teachers bid us alwida with ‘phir se ayiyega’ ‘hamare saath khaana khayiye’. Both sides knew pretty well that day does not come, we gave assurance, exchanged telephone numbers despite knowing we will not use it again. But for sure the teachers will cherish the exposure, children will remember the visit of the aliens that might have given some prick to some one to study further. A lady teacher choked with emotion said from your visit our children have learnt a lot, looking at people like you is highly motivating for our girls, where will they get this kind of opportunity and similar feelings. Was our visit so strong, just two hours of interaction in the school could bring tears of joy and gratitude??? We must do much more of these visits to give wings to the aspiration of the under privileged section of society. Two youngsters among the teachers continuously telling us to increase their salary, the two older ones continuously showing their gratitude for taking trouble to travel and reach their remote school was striking. Treated us with frooti/ mazaa and aam swad toffee, I consumed both, though I never drink preserved water/ juice and toffees. It is their warmth and the need to have it after the drive of the desperate need to drink something. Enjoyed frooti/mazaa for the first time.
Stopped our vehicle on the picturesque road side under the shade of a huge tree. Had our packed lunch in the serene spot. Could not resist a brief stop in Salepur Bikalo Gharo to relish the original taste of rasgolla. Headed back with rich experience preparing ourselves to work with more rigor towards the mission.
The return journey was not the same as the visit had churned my conscience deep. Village schools and teachers are suffering from identity crisis. Teachers knew their role is crucial for the future and well being of their neglected community. They want to work to bring change in the lives of youngsters in their community. There are lots of policies, programmes and schemes for the benefit of education of minority community in our country. Is it really benefiting the target? Lots of work needs to be taken up to bring the Government initiatives to the ground. I realized what is required is giving our time to be with them, listen to them, connecting with them. Spending some happy time with them, listening to their experiences would contribute much more than the schemes and programmes could. Contribution to education is not only developing material, not conducting research and publishing in journals but also giving a bit of our time and expertise through personal interaction.
As a practice with me when I visit any school I asked a teacher if there were any children with disability in the school. She narrated her story to say that the community does not recognize the right of the child with disability to be getting any facility. Her only son has an intellectual disability is being taken care at home by her mother while her husband works in another country. One day when the child was groaning with pain she took him to a doctor who refused to give any medicine saying ‘this kind of children should not live’. Probably the doctor could not diagnose the cause of pain. After returning home mother found that one of his teeth was decaying and she took him to a dentist and got it extracted to relive him of pain. Child is a child, mother is a mother. We need to reaffirm that we have to provide the facility / opportunity to them. How much they can empower given the opportunity is not our concern. Giving relief from pain, pleasure of being with other children of their age, leaning one word, one behavior cannot be restricted due to our ignorance.