Published: 21st June 2020
How this Karnataka Govt School Teacher set up a student newspaper to bring kids back to school
B Kotresh, a government school teacher speaks about how his monthly magazine, Pencil helped him increase enrollment in his school in Belagurki in Raichur District
How do you improve the level of your students? You get them to fall in love with language. When B Kotresh was appointed as a school teacher at the Government Primary School in Belagurki in Raichur district, his only aim was to develop this school and its students. And it took him almost ten years to turn this school into the model school that it is today. As a part of this transformation, Kotresh along with his students started to publish a monthly magazine called Pencil, which sells like hot cakes in the villages of Raichur.
What led him to start this magazine is an interesting story by itself. Kotresh says,"I am originally from Ballari district and studied in a government school. When I passed my government exams in 2005, I was appointed as a teacher in a school in Belagurki district. I went to this school with high hopes and happiness that I finally became a teacher. To my shock, I found there were only two classrooms and they were in a shed covered with huge plastic sheets and had very few students in the classroom. The government school that I studied in Ballari was fully furnished and no less than any private school. I was disappointed and returned home thinking that I won't be able to work in such a government school. However, my mother convinced me that is a great opportunity for me to develop this school and help students of this village."
Kotresh returned to Belagurki armed with nothing but sheer determination to change this school. He explains their growth story, "Raichur district in Karnataka witness the highest temperatures every year. Whether it is monsoon or winter season, we face the heat of the sun. One day, when students were not able to sit inside the class, I brought them under the tree and started teaching. They enjoyed the breeze of the air and my lessons at the same time. This went on for few months and it happened to appear in the media. The education department called me and questioned me for giving such information to media. I was thankful because it made an impact. The government allocated funds to build two classrooms."
Today, the school children and teachers are happy because they have nine spacious classrooms and a decent school campus to study in. Every year, the government would allocate funds to build classrooms. However, they did not have space to expand the campus. Therefore, Kotresh approached a farmer to purchase a one-acre piece of land beside the school. He explains, "With my constant communication, the local people were convinced that I am doing good to children. They contributed more than one lakh rupees to purchase this land. We even planted different trees before we could build classrooms. This helped the atmosphere remain cool and attract students to the school. We painted the walls of the school and gave it a new look."
Despite all these efforts, Kotresh and other teachers faced some difficulty in bringing dropouts back and in getting new admissions. Practices like child marriage, bonded labour or child labour were prevalent in Raichur till a few years ago, With the intervention from people like Kotresh and the police department, these incidents have reduced to a large extent. He explains, "We did everything we could to attract children to school including a door-to-door campaign, creating awareness among parents and much more. They would come and enroll their children in school but also allowed them to work as labourers during school hours. At the age of 13 and 14, girls were married off. That's when I decided to start this magazine called Pencil."
According to Kotresh, 2013 was a year of great change and achievement for his school. He and his school children started approaching school dropouts and child labours to draw cartoons or even write for their magazine. He explains, "I gave them freedom to write vachanas, dohas, essays, poems and draw as many cartoons as they can. Since I knew how to design pages and work on the software, I designed the newspaper myself. And one of the Saturdays, I would take the pdfs to a printing press and print 300 to 400 copies. I spent money from my own pocket and it cost more than Rs 2000 to print these copies. The magazine copies would be distributed for free and these children would come to me with a lot of curiosity asking if their writings or paintings are published."
Making the right use of this time, Kotresh would show them the cases of a few successful children and explain how an educated person can have an upper hand in everything. Initially, he would also involve them in small activities along with other children and ask them to work on smaller projects like chart making, hold an elocution competition and so on. Gradually, when they felt that education was essential for them, they would come and join his school. "Their parents were equally happy to see the names of their son or daughter appear in magazines. And then there was great word of mouth reach also. These parents would inform their neighbours and they too would send their children to our school. Today, the school has over 310 children along with nine teachers. Most of them who were promoted to high school have even scored well in SSLC exams in the previous years," explains Kotresh who has dedicated his life to this school.
Kotresh has a habit of reading newspapers and magazines to improve the content and bring out something new for the readers. Therefore, he started involving his school students in the making of this magazine. He explains, "I have formed an editorial team that has school students from class, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Every month they will list the interviews to be done, paintings, short stories or poems and decidedwhat content will go on which page. I don't involve myself in the content. My task is to design these four pages and give it to them. They will edit and proofread everything that will appear in this magazine. In terms of interviews, they interview villagers who have got state or national level recognition in sports, arts, education and so on. This way, the local community has started taking notice of our magazine and the efforts of their children."
Like every other newspaper, Pencil's circulation has also increased. Now, Kotresh prints around 2,000 copies and distributes them for free. People's love for this magazine is so high that the copies are supplied all the way to Bengaluru also. But how do they survive without funds or advertisements? He says, "A certain amount from my salary is dedicated for school work as well as to print the magazine. Most of the time, people publish birthday wishes, wedding anniversary wishes and pay us. In such times, I don't spend anything from my pocket. Recently, a person got married but due to the pandemic, he did not distribute or print wedding invitations. Instead, he donated that money to us to print copies of our magazine. In return, we gave him a thank you letter and the bill that includes the money spent on printing and GST. This paves the way for transparency and motivation for people to help students."
There are four pages in this magazine which is of the same size as newspaper
Page 1 includes an event or an important report of their school. For instance, last year, when the school reopened, they conducted a procession to welcome the new admissions and tell them more about their school. It also includes an editorial written by B Kotresh and the names of children working for this magazine
Page 2 includes the information on festivals celebrated in that particular month. One of their editions have information on the Muharram feast celebrated by the local Muslims and its importance, a book review by children, poems and puzzles
Page 3 includes an interview of a local villager who has achieved at the taluk, state or national level or an interview of a new member in SDMC and an editorial by children
Page 4 includes drawings created by children across all the age groups in this village