In my village of Bagad, India, our lives were once ruled by the weather. Every summer, when water was scarce and the sun was fierce, I would dream of hearing the rain beat down. But in the rainy season the unrelenting drip-drip-drip of rainfall would leak through my school’s roof and onto the heads of my pupils.
In the last six years, we have seen much rain and sunshine, but the elements bother us less. For me, education has been at the centre of everything we have achieved.
I am a teacher at Bagad Primary School. In summer, I get up at 6am, eat a simple breakfast then walk to school. School starts at 8.10am and I arrive early because the pupils do, too – they are very eager.
When the bell rings to start the day, the boys and girls line up to sing our national anthem and to say morning prayers. Often teachers will share an inspirational thought. I always use this time to share stories of the amazing things our pupils can achieve through learning.
I teach a variety of subjects, in both Hindi and English. But the most important thing for me is that every child leaves school able to read and write. Across rural India, illiteracy is a huge problem, affecting around half of children in communities such as Bagad.
I prefer to teach through storytelling and playing games, because I believe it is better to have pupils participate in their learning.
After the droughts
I teach until 11.15am, when we take a break for lunch. This is an important time of day, as every child is given a meal through the government’s lunch programme. Normally we have vegetables and roti or rice, but the dish my pupils love the most is dhal.
After lunch, we return to lessons until 2.10pm, when the school day finishes. In winter, when it is less hot, the day runs later, from 9.30am to 3.40pm.
In my state, Rajasthan, as in the majority of India, primary education up to age 14 is free. While student enrolment rates are good, I have seen for myself how high the dropout rates are, particularly among girls. Frequent droughts once caused many of Bagad’s men to leave their farms to find work in larger towns – unable to survive as wells dried up. In turn, my pupils would stay home to help their mothers.
Today, in place of one leaky classroom we have five new buildings, thanks to the charity WE. The school is now located in the centre of the village, so children can easily walk to school. We have also recruited more teachers, meaning each pupil can learn at a suitable level, instead of all age groups being taught together. This was very difficult for teachers.
The rehabilitation of our well, along with new latrines and drinking fountains, has also helped. Children spend less time fetching water and can attend school more regularly.
I am particularly proud that more girls now attend school. Our community is a traditional one, where women would typically marry young and become mothers, rather than getting an education.
Since we have employed a female teacher, parents feel more comfortable sending their daughters to school. Female pupils have a wonderful role model and are starting to aspire to having careers first and becoming mothers later.
Our community is on a long journey towards a brighter future. I have always believed that without education, there is darkness. We may still have the pouring rain and the harsh sun, but today we also have hope for the future.
Sohanlal Ameta is a teacher at Bagad Primary School