Ten-year-old Gauri goes to school on weekends, and she is mighty pleased about it. Difficult to believe, but true. “A spot of gardening, a game of hide and seek with her friends, she loves it,” says Gauri’s mother Manisha Thombre.
Responsible for this change of heart is a tiny school in a smallish village named Kardelwadi (it has a population of 1,200) some 60 km east of Pune.
About 11 years ago Dattatray Sakat was a zila parishad teacher in Babusar Budruk village in Shirur taluka. Then one day he got his marching orders and that’s how he came to be in Kardelwadi.
When Dattatray and his wife Bebinanda joined the school, it was the usual village school — old neglected building, slightly run down, slightly neglected, all of one storey and four rooms, classes from nursery to 8. Dattatray continued to draw a salary as a government employee, while Bebinanda assisted him voluntarily.
To jazz things up in their own way, the couple introduced activities such as gardening, yoga, clay modeling, outdoor games and so on. When parents donated laptops, LCDs and air conditioners, the Sakats turned one of the four rooms into a laboratory. Then came a point when children started dropping by on weekends as well and that is how the Zila Parishad school of Kardelwadi became a one of its kind 365-day activity centre.
Five years later the school has become the stuff of local folklore. Today, parents from adjoining ‘big’ towns such as Shirur and Talegaon queue up to enroll their children here. Out of a total 90 students, as many as 70 are from adjoining towns. While Dattatray manages the overall show, Bebinanda looks after the academic affairs.
“From 8am, when parents drop their wards, till 5 pm there is endless activity in the school,” says Dattatray. “Apart from lessons, students are encouraged to clean the classrooms and water the plants to encourage a sense of ownership and also inculcate in them a sense of responsibility,” he adds.
On weekends, students play, sketch, work at the potter’s wheel, watch movies and also surf the internet. The weekend activities are entirely managed by students. “They are not charged any fees,” says Vikas Jadhav, a parent. “On weekends children can come in late and stay on for as long as they please,” adds Jadhav, who belongs to neighbouring Shirur taluk. “After spending a year at the Kardelwadi school, my son does most of the chores on his own. The school life has made him more disciplined and extrovert,” says advocate Suhas Dhamdere, father of Ashish, a Class 4 student from Talegaon.
“We allow them to indulge in everything — from sports and watching films to plays. The best part is while we guide them in every activity, most things are managed by students themselves. In the process they become disciplined,” says Bebinanda.
The fun and games atmosphere of the school does not take away from the academics. “On the contrary, it fuels academic excellence. In the last few years around 50% students have managed to clear state scholarship exams, an otherwise difficult exam to crack. This year, eight out of 17 students have cleared the scholarship exam,” says Dattatray.
The Sakats’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2010 and 2011, the Kardelwadi school received the State Quality Improvement Award.
Meanwhile, it’s evening and school is over, but Gauri pleads with her mother to let her stay a little while longer. “It’s a home away from home for her,” says Manisha.
Now, what award can compare with that?