Published: 20th November 2021
This AP govt school headmaster and his teachers visit students' doorstep to bring them back to class. Here's how they do it
They walk to the surrounding villages of Pattikonda in Andhra Pradesh and visit parents to talk them into sending their children to school
It might take a village to raise a child, but sometimes, it takes an army of teachers, led by the principal, to bring children to school from their village. And that's the strategy Umamaheswara Reddy K, the headmaster of Zilla Parishad High School (ZPHS), Pathikonda, Andhra Pradesh, is adopting. So every Monday, or after long festivals, the 54-year-old and his team of ten teachers meet earlier than usual at the school and disperse into surrounding villages like Atukuralla Palli (4 km away), Peddinepalli (1.5 km away) and within Pathikonda itself, on foot. They cajole, reason, attract, talk and use any other tool from their armory to bring back regular absentees to school.
Out of the 109 students from Classes VI to X studying at Zilla Parishad High School, Pathikonda, there are 15 to 20 students who are regularly absent. While most of them hail from the tribal area of Atukuralla Palli, others are from surrounding areas. "By the time we reach their home, children will already be engaged in tending to cattle or other menial tasks. This is even more true post the lockdowns," says the headmaster. Sometimes, wayward students from surrounding degree and intermediate colleges get a hold of them and engage them in mischief, other times, parents migrate to different cities and leave behind children to take care of the land. There are also 22 single-parent children who are mostly living with fathers or grandparents who hold no sway over them. Reasons could be completely out of the control of the staff as well, like a death in the village or an upcoming festival. But ain't no mountain high enough for the team, whose singular aim is to do their bit and bring children back to school.
At a function in ZHPS Pathikonda
The headmaster, encompassing his experience of over a decade and then some, goes on to state the beyond obvious reasons behind why a full class is important to the entire functioning of a school. "A full class enthuses teachers to teach earnestly and that, in turn, enthuses students as well. That's how teaching and learning is fruitful otherwise what's the use of teaching the four walls?" patiently explains the headmaster who brought his expertise to this ZPHS school recently. That's why their first aim is to bring children back to school and then, encourage them to keep coming back.
We need to talk
Once the teachers or the headmaster himself calls on a house, the process of coaxing parents commences. Every point that can convince the parents, like the child's future, job, the importance of education and more, is cited. "The government has made a good decision to include the clause that students should have minimum attendance to get the benefits of Amma Vodi scheme, so we usually remind parents about that as well," he shares. But in some cases, parents hit back. And they hit back hard. Once, a parent questioned the headmaster while stating, 'You have all facilities at your home and you can go to school on time. We don't!' But perseverance, thy name is teacher. So the team goes back to their home again next time and tries to convince them.
This doesn't mean they have no success stories. Like Hemant. Once, the headmaster invited all children from Atukuralla Palli, including Hemant, into his office and spoke to them about attending school. He gave them examples of naughty bunkers who are now shining beacons and hold respectable jobs. In fact, he even called one such former student of his on the phone, put him on speaker and asked him to motivate the students. It seemed to have worked splendidly, for Hemant at least, because since that day, he hasn't missed one class. So you see, even out-of-the-box methods are more than welcome. Whatever it takes, as they say.
He has been recognised for all his work multiple times like in this picture, taken when he was given a certificate on Independence Day 2018
The strengthening of the school infrastructure itself is another aspect that is the focus of the headmaster. Their previous headmaster set up a basketball court and now, they have a table tennis facility as well, which is ensuring many girls are regular to school, we hear. There is also a tennis court in the making. A teacher who teaches flute, violin and vocals also drops by every now and then, thanks to Joining The Dots Foundation. "We are trying to invest in sports and the like so that students who are not interested in academics at least come for the sake of sports," shares the headmaster, who joined a private school first but found his vocation only when teaching in government schools.
There is a pattern here
Umamaheswara Reddy K is the same headmaster who arranged for a regular bus for about 20 children who would walk to school on Monday and leave only on Friday. This was when he was deployed as a teacher in his very first government school job in Ramakuppam. When transferred to Nellipatla, he encouraged parents to send children to schools and from 210, the attendance went up to 420. Attendance has always been a priority for him. "Even as a teacher I never gave homework. Because when I was studying in school, I was never able to finish it as upon going back home, my parents always had a long list of chores ready for me. I would complete my homework in the lunch break or during the sports period," says the headmaster who truly understands the predicament of students from rural areas not just because he has been through them, but also because he is sensitive to their needs. As someone who could only join school in Class III, he knows what pulls children back.
In deep conversation with parents
The headmaster also has a slew of teachers to thank, Shanmugam sir who used to teach Telugu and Math; high school teachers Nagabhushanamma madam and Jayachandran. "They impressed me so much that I used to teach arithmetic to school children when I was pursuing MPC (Math, Physics and Chemistry) in Besant Theosophical College, Madanapalle," he recalls, leaving us with one simple food for thought, "Children are like white paper, what we write is imprinted on their minds."