With New Education Policy on the anvil, decision-makers have been brainstorming on new ways to strengthen India’s education system. In a country where pupil-to-teacher ratio (PTR) is one of the lowest in the world and access to free education is beset with challenges, there’s a need to find teachers in every street, literally. The story of Sheetal Maheshwari, a volunteer from Kathda village in Gujrat, bears testimony to the transforming powers of a guru.
Kathda is located 6 km west of Mandvi in Kutch district. Coastal Gujarat Power Ltd (CGPL) has been running its Shiksha Sarthi programme across Gujarat since 2012. The programme’s main objective is to enhance educational competencies and learning achievements in children across the state.
Dhara Maheta, one of the cluster resource leaders (CRL) of the Shiksha Sarthi team, was sent to Kathda to establish a community library camp for children studying in Class III to VIII. The first task for the CRL involved identifying volunteers in the community. For the success of such an initiative, involvement of active community volunteers is crucial. This is because Shiksha Sarthi’s role is limited to establishing a support system by providing teaching material and instruction methodology for improvement of self-learning skills among children.
Things were complicated for Maheta from the word go. First the community did not understand the importance of an initiative of this nature in upskilling children. Next she received a lukewarm response from the community as only three people came onboard as volunteers. Worst followed when two out of three volunteers backed out at the last minute. Recalls Maheta, “Never before in my experience I saw the beginning and the end of something so close to each other. It was at this moment when Sheetal – the only remaining volunteer – appeared like a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Sheetal who belongs to a very poor family had dropped her studies during the second year in graduation. Maheta could see a yearning in Sheetal to empower young minds with the light of education. “Sheetalben is full of positive energy. Over a period of time, she convinced her cousin to join the initiative. Teaching children brings out the best in her and we saw it in the way she used the teaching material. Also, she asked for additional material and provided valuable inputs on how we can further improve the quality of our programme,” said Maheta.
Sheetalben is good at sewing, something she is helping a lot of women who visit her learn. She constantly talks about the Community Library to this network and encourages women to send their children to the camp.
Recently Sheetalben got engaged. The good news is: she will continue to be an active partner in initiatives that spread education among underprivileged children.
Said her mother, “Educating children is the biggest social service in the world. We may not have the money, but my daughter has the ‘will’ and ‘skills’ to teach.”
Sheetalben does not expect any monetary gains as teaching is her passion. She said, “I may not have completed my graduation, but helping children read and write better is undoubtedly one of the most fulfilling experience of my life.”