A day in the life of…Neeta Aherwar

In an area of India where many school-aged children work instead of attending school, this headteacher is adopting a friendly approach to encourage attendance

Neeta Aherwar

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I am the headteacher of a primary school in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh in India – and I am a single parent. My husband – who was also a teacher – was killed in a road accident travelling to work, so now it is just me and my daughter. Every morning, we both wake up at 4:30am. Once we finish all our chores, we get ready and leave by 7am. The school is 25 kilometres away and starts at 8am.

The first thing I do is gather the children for morning assembly. Afterwards, teachers take their students and begin lessons. I visit each class and interact with the students and teachers, assessing if the children are able to learn what is being taught to them. Sometimes, I teach classes too, mainly maths, science, Hindi and social studies.

We have 57 students and four teachers, but owing to attendance problems, on average only 25-30 students attend school regularly. To try to counteract this, I promote a culture of not teaching only by instruction and encourage teachers to organise small activities and games where children play with the teachers and me. This gives the children a space to open up and share their concerns; they look at me more as a friend. This approach helps me understand their problems and find possible solutions.

I personally believe that communicating and mixing with children, playing and eating with them, treating them with love and affection, all help in building strong bonds of trust, respect and obedience to their teachers among the children. It also means that the children look forward to coming to school the next day.

During lunchtime, I try to finish any school newsletters and meet with parents to discuss their child’s progress and development. I also use this time to prepare the lesson plans and teaching aids for the next day.

The children in my school come from the lower-income group of families, such as the rickshaw pullers, loaders and construction workers. Some of these children themselves work as child labourers after school or even during school for particular seasons.

I find that the children who come from these families are more hardworking and emotional than the children who are from the mainstream. They are more practically oriented. They have seen the bitter part of life and have made themselves stronger to face the odds and struggle for their daily lives and earning their daily bread.

These children have learned maths before they started school from the real world, where they earn money, calculate it, save money and support their families. I find these children are sharper and more intelligent when it comes to school learning, they are more attentive and enthusiastic to learn.

But, ultimately, what most of them want is what all children want: love, care and affection. As our school week lasts six days, with Sunday off, the children feel that school is their second home. I enjoy watching the children depart chuckling and happy each day at 1pm, all leaving with a silent promise to come back to school the next day.

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Neeta Aherwar

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