Her never give up approach and the vision to create a conducive environment for learning in her school through community participation transformed an average government-run upper primary school in Aamgaon area of Badaun district into an extraordinary place of learning.
Meet Sangeeta Sharma (45), a teacher and winner of the President Award in 2017, who moved a step ahead to make education accessible to all.
Sangeeta was concerned about the poor enrolment of girl students in the school. As a woman, she was well aware of the social and cultural norms restricting girls in getting admission in school and in continuing their formal education.
Thus, with intent to increase the number of girls in school, she began visiting houses and meeting families. “I organised several meetings with the parents and motivated them to send their daughters to school. I kept them updated about the infrastructural changes in the school and convinced them into believing that the school now is a safer and a better place for the students,” she said.
“Maine apni padhai sarkari school se poori ki thi aur mein ye jaanti thi ki suvidhaaon ke abbhav mein bachhon ka man padhaai mein nahi lagta. Isiliye maine socha ki kuch alag kiya jaye (I did my schooling from a government school and I was well aware that lack of facilities distracts children from studying. Hence, I thought of doing something different),” said Sangeeta, head incharge of the school.
Sangeeta joined the school in 2010 when there were 70 students and she was the only teacher. In nine years time, number of students increased to 130 and teacher’s strength is now four. To attract more girl students, several activities like handicraft making and sewing classes were started for them that proved to be ground breaking.
“Girls started joining school and now they outnumber boys. These girls not only receive formal education but also are involved in several extra-curricular activities. “It is heartening to know that one of the girls has participated in a state’s sports event as well,” she said.
This school has a bunch of happy students. “Mujhe school aana achha lagta hai. Main yahaan padhne ke saath saath school ki saaf safaai mein bhi madad karti hoon. Meena Manch mujhe bahut achha lagta hai. (I like coming here. Apart from my studies, I also take part in cleaning activities in school. I like participating in activities organised by Meena Manch,” said Akansha, girl student of the school.
Sangeeta was promoted to the principal-in-charge in 2015. When Swachh Bharat Mission started, Sangeeta had her plan for the school ready. After the beautification of the campus and getting drinking water facility, she was still not satisfied. She knew her school was lacking customized toilets, hand-washing units, solid waste management system and power backup.
“Bal Sansad (children parliament) actively takes care of school’s cleanliness and hygiene. The school has done an exemplary work on menstrual hygiene for the past 3 years. Meena Manch gives a platform to girls to learn handmade crafts, sewing and other life skill techniques. Panchayati Raj department and collaboration with UNICEF proved a boon for the school, said Sangeeta.
The school now boasts of separate science and computer laboratories for the students. Through funds from Gram Panchayat the school was painted in vibrant colours. The school has vermi-compost pits and rainwater harvesting system in place now.
“Aamgaon UPS is now known for its exemplary works towards creating a congenial campus, improving the quality of education, introducing extracurricular activities and scoring top ranks (5 star status) under Operation Kayakalp. With all this it has given everyone a beautiful reason to smile,” said Ram Pal Singh Rajput, Basic Shiksha Adhikari of Badaun.
“Sangeeta’s efforts highlight how teachers can bring about transformation of their schools if they take the lead. On teacher’s day, we hope that many more teachers will come forward to ensure best infrastructure, education and hygiene practices for students. UNICEF has been working for introducing child friendly Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities in schools in association with Panchayati Raj department and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan,” said Kumar Bikram, wash officer at UNICEF.
As one enters the school, the difference is evident. Colourful walls with messages on sanitation, health, hygiene, hand washing and moral values written on them are a blissful experience to watch. But the situation was bad when Sangeeta Sharma joined the school as a teacher in 2010. She realised that the school had a very unhygienic campus, almost defunct toilets and mismanaged potable water storage. Girl’s enrolment in school was also very low due to traditional mentality of the community and to some extent the unfriendly school infrastructure. School had a very small campus insufficient for sporting activities and there were safety issues as well due to a low boundary wall. She then started discussing all these issues with the principal and gram pradhan who initially did not show much interest.
Her attitude of not giving up easily kept her intent very high. Without wasting anytime, she decided to counter the situation one by one. The school got its submersible system with proper tap water facilities installed from Panchayat funds in 2012. This was an extraordinary achievement for a female teacher who succeeded in making drinking water accessible to students by mobilizing funds.
After rigorous efforts and continuous follow-ups, the district acknowledged her commitment and supported the school in constructing separate toilets for girls, boys and divyaang students and hand washing units under SBM. Hand washing unit is being used daily and there is a system of self-monitoring by the students themselves.
Seeing her tireless efforts day and night, retired people from the village came forward in her support. Their advice and moral support boosted her confidence to do more for the school. Her sensitivity towards girl students was obvious. Being a woman, she knew the pain and stigma associated with menstruation. She observed this as a key reason for very poor attendance in the school every month.
She sensitized the girls, clarified their myths and encouraged them to attend school even on those tough days. An incinerator was installed in the school in 2015 and has since been in regular use. Girls use this to dispose sanitary napkins. The smiles on their pretty faces are enough reasons to describe the impact of this story.
Sangeeta is not yet satisfied. She said, “Main school ko aur behtar banana chahati hoon (I want to make this school even better).” “If we get more support under Kayakalp”, she added.
“We can have more rooms to accommodate students and better facilities for sports. Recently, the school received funds from Gram Nidhi for tiling the floors and installing solar lights. My vision to make an ideal school is firmly getting into shape now,” she said. The school has installed solar plants from Gram Nidhi. It aims to become self-sustaining in generating power. There are separate science and computer laboratories for the students now, she said.