They teach us innovation, courage, skill, and kindness, all by example. HT brings you lessons in their journey to recognition, for there’s lots to learn from them:
Democratic principal: Mandeep Kaur, 47, principal
As principal, Mandeep Kaur turned a decaying institution around and worked from scratch to provide it with the missing basic facilities. She upgraded its sports wing to produce athletes who represented the country. She did it by democratic values and decentralisation of powers, which helped her build an efficient team that could deliver results. She is also the 2014 Punjab award winner.
Challenges:The initial period of scarce money and resources was tough but I couldn’t sit back and wait for the government to help. I started fundraising and involving the community until the official assistance came. It wasn’t easy for a woman in a male-dominated department. We the teachers who stand for girls’ education and security have to also defend ourselves from patriarchal society.
Way forward: Change can come only if the students, parents, community, district administration, and the state government work together. Teachers need to be innovative.
She unshackled jail school, helped children quit drugs - Balwinder Kaur, 58, all subjects
Balwinder Kaur gave the school a makeover. “When I joined it 10 years ago (2006), I was the only teacher for 200 students. We had no boundary wall, no toilets, and not enough classrooms over even a tree.
Today we are six teachers and the campus has thousands of plants, besides a ‘creative-mathematics’ corner for students. I contributed `2.5 lakh to this facelift programme,” she says. Now promoted as block elementary officer, she has won the state award earlier.
Challenges faced: Being a teacher in a government school is not easy. In private schools, parents take a lot of pains for the child’s education but here teachers who have push them all the time. Our lot is from underprivileged, illiterate class, where parents don’t keep the children in school for long. I have to go to their houses to counsel and motivate them. I helped some students quit drugs.
The way forward: The education scene can improve, if teachers are honest to their profession. I see the scope for an amendment to the Right to Education (RTE) Act, since students have lost the fear of failing and being struck off because of low attendance. Their basics are quite weak, because till Class 8, they haven’t been tested. They are losing the ability to clear competitive examinations.
Transformed inn into school - Megh Dass, 55, science
When Megh Dass joined the school in 2001, it was just one room in an inn. With his effort, today it has six classrooms, a proper playground, boundary wall, and ‘Maths Park’.
Kakrakala Government High School, where he worked for four years as officiating head, also had no money for new classrooms since 1997. He got villagers to contribute and they built a science laboratory and a classroom.
Challenges: When I joined the Bharthala school, the problems were enormous. We didn’t have enough space. But an NRI (non-resident Indian) donated `2 lakh, the panchayat also chipped in, and we had a proper school.
The way forward: The government should fill all vacancies of teacher in its schools with qualified candidates.
Teacher, peon, gardener, cook - Rajwinder Kaur, 58, principal/head teacher
Rajwinder Kaur was appreciated for the overall development of the school and improving its academic results. When she joined the school in 1994, it had just 30-odd students. Today it has more than 100.
“I convinced the families of the border belt to send their children to school. The panchayat helped me build a stadium for students. Awards come when we take initiative and don’t wait for the higher authorities to do everything,” Rajwinder Kaur says.
Challenges faced: My school is just 1.5 kilometres from the Pakistan border. Most border-area schools are deprived of basic facilities and short of all subject teachers. No teacher wants to join here, so there are always vacancies. I worked to have electricity and drinking-water facility at the school. I have been its teacher, peon, cook, and gardener, all rolled into one.
Way forward: I come from the village where I work: That’s my reason for sticking to my work and staying dedicated. Since teachers are unhappy to be posted in border areas, it has only one solution — hire people from border areas as teachers and deploy them in their own villages.
Helping find special ability - Rajinder Kumar, 47, Hindi
Rajinder Kumar pays the board examination fee of 20 needy students, besides promoting co-curricular activities. Rekha Rani, a disabled girl he taught, won an international co-curricular-activity contest for special children three years in a row. His students participate in the national art festival in Delhi and pick up prizes consistently in other events. He made a personal library for poor students and took the state award in 2013. He was into social work before teaching and his own daughter, Arzoo, is a special child.
Challenges faced: When you want to serve, challenges don’t matter. You start alone and people join you. I always say: “Suraj na ban paya to, ban kay deepak jalta chal (If you can’t be sun, be a small light).” I never preferred money but tried to serve mankind.
The way forward: The students and parents in my area have endorsed government schools. It’s a big change, made possible by dedication and honest approach.
— Sondeep Singh Sandhu
Champion of ‘Beti Padhao’ - Om Prakash Setia, 52, Punjabi
Despite being on deputation in a rural area, Om Prakash Setia holds regular extra classes for girls. He even teaches the girls whose parents don’t let them go to college or university outside Mansa.
Challenges faced: My father was a government teacher in Abohar and we were not very strong financially. To meet my expenses, I used to sell milk at my village. Watching 1954 Hindi movie ‘Jagriti’ inspired me to be a teacher.
The way forward: The student-teacher relationship should be healthier. In our days, teachers were respected more than even parents. This culture has eroded.
Drive to teach keeps him going - Parminder Singh, 50, Science
Parminder Singh drives long distance every day to pick up seven students from Sherpur Khurd village in his car.
He also pays for the cab fare of 23 other children from Galib Khurd village, to ensure they come to school.
Challenges faced: Every day, I leave home an hour early. First I drop my wife to the school where she works and then pick the seven students who live 1.5 kilometres from my house. The first few days I found it tough, but later it made me happy to see more children in school.
The way forward: Teachers need to work efficiently and give quality education to the students.
— Deepa Sharma
Making history interesting - Arun Kumar Sharma, 55, history
Arun Kumar Sharma, who gave 31 years to teaching, was resource person in the 2013 faculty-development programme for new lecturers.
Challenges: You have to look for newer ways to teach them history.
Way forward: Government schools need coordinators.
— Aneesha Bedi
The physics of innovation, formula of success - Ishwar Chand Sharma, 47, physics
Ishwar Chand Sharma contributed to social reform. His 20 research papers were published in international and national journals.
He promotes girls’ education, tree plantation, and has improved the school infrastructure. His students vouch for his discipline in being regular, in a state infamous for absentee teachers.
Challenges faced: I had to work hard to make weak students improve their performance and not give up on physics, which is considered tough.
The way forward: I want to develop new teaching methods using information and communication technologies and other techniques for making physics interesting. Using these methods will require minimum resources, since rural-area students are not that resourceful.
Ideas in store - Indu Singh, 54, science, elementary headmistress
Till last year, Indu was headmistress at Government Middle School, Medical College, Rohtak, where she improved the infrastructure and promoted co-curricular activities. She turned a storeroom into clean classrooms and auctioned the items made out of waste.
Challenges: I don’t think there were any challenges, since everyone around me motivated me a lot. I always wanted to do something different, and people’s motivation helped me.
The way forward: The no-detention policy must go. I’m don’t ask to be strict to the extreme but it’s necessary that we promote students only when they are thorough with at least basics of the last class.
‘Not a job but social work’ - Sumitra Devi, 58, Hindi
The woman who comes from Jhajjar and lives in Gurgaon worked hard to spread awareness against social evils. She conducted plantation drives and built four toilets in the school for girls. Her award, she says, is the recognition of her school’s holistic approach towards child development. “There are miles to go. Reforming society is a continuous struggle, and the goal can only be achieved by improving the quality of education.”
Challenges: Teaching in government schools is not easy, neither is dealing with different issues in society every day. The social status and economic background of the parents hold back the rural children. I had to counsel them to reduce the dropout rate. It’s social work along with the job.
The way forward: Accept modern ways. Give students a platform where they can speak their mind.
— Ipsita Pati
From meritorious class - Meenakshi Sharma, 46, biology
All 20 of Meenakshi Sharma’s Class-12 students scored more than 80% marks, while five girls received more than 90%. Her project about using sugarcane waste as a poultry feed impressed the national award jury. It had won her the state award in 2014.
Challenges: Government schools face a tough competition from private ones but we have talent and just need to use it in the right direction. I was the only teacher from government schools to have her project among top three. I was transferred from city to a village school but this award will make me feel relaxed about it.
The way forward: We need to shun negativity and use our positive energies.
- Neeraj Mohan
Can’t forget his alphabet - Rajesh Kumar, 52, Hindi
Rajesh Kumar created “a magical varnmala” to help students memorise the Hindi alphabet. It won him a certificate of innovation from the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT). He has also been wining district innovation competitions for the past two years. He led his school to take chief minister’s beautification award in the district.
Challenges: I hardly notice the challenges.
Way forward: The only way to engage rural students is innovation. Give them something they find interesting.
One year equals 10 for him - Muneer Ahmad Khan, 52, all subjects till Class 8
Awarded for developing “academic side” of children at middle school in Bonturoo, Anantnag, where he worked for three years. Schools he taught in have seen sharp rise in enrollment of village children and high pass percentage. “All committees agreed he deserved the award,” says Ghulam Rasool Shah, chief education officer, Anantnag.
Challenges: Political turmoils in Kashmir during his 26-year-long journey as a teacher.
Way forward: “I will try to work in such a way that one year equals 10. I don’t want to stay in one school for more than two years so that I can impart what I know to the maximum number of children possible,” says Khan.
– Abhishek Saha
Awarded posthumously - Saiqa Shafi Wanchoo, 43, was English teacher
Saiqa died on May 15 under mysterious circumstances, months after appearing in the interview before the state-level selection committee constituted for the award. Education director Shah Faesal said, “She was brilliant. She was best in teaching, pedagogy and extracurricular activities.” An MA in English, who had also done Cambridge English Foundation Course, she was popular for her innovative teaching techniques and extra-curricular activities. “She was an inspiration for students and prepared them for debates,” said her colleague Masarat Zafar. Saiqa’s younger sister, Kehkashan Wanchoo is taking their mother to Delhi to receive the award from the President.
Farmer’s son in noble field - Govind Sharma, 47, mathematics (Classes 9 and 10)
Govind Sharma’s long mediation resolved a 30-year-old dispute between the Muslim waqf board and the education department over the school land. “Poor children of Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda and Ladakh study at this school. I tried only for their sake,” says Sharma. He revived the school’s National Cadet Corps wing and delivered 100% result for Class-10.
Challenges: My father, a marginal farmer from Rajouri district’s Sunderbani tehsil, fought all odds to educate his six sons and a daughter, and inspired us to join the noble profession. Today, three of my brothers also teach.
Way forward: Teach poor children for free.
Child bride wedded to Hindi - Kusam Kumari, 53. Hindi (Classes 9 and 10)
The 2009 state-award winner for contribution to Hindi has written 300 poems in the language. Kusam Kumari attended all training workshops and toiled for promoting Hindi. “With the help of my husband, Reasi zonal education officer Surinder Kumar Verma, I supported the education of poor children,” she says.
Challenges faced: “Born to a small-time goldsmith from the Billawar area of Kathua district, I was married off in 1984 when only in Class 12. After marriage, my husband helped me complete my education. My toughest day was when I couldn’t join Class 11 because family circumstances.
Way forward: If every one does his or her bit, society will be better.
— Ravi Khajuria
Best results, every year - Shyam Lal, 49, head teacher
Award for: Best results, selection of five-to-six students every year for Navodaya School.
Challenges: Lack of facilities in government schools, grading system instead of examinations.
Way forward: Scrap the current evaluation system. Give the government schools the facilities that private institutions have.
Standing up for the weak - Bhupinder Gupta, 50, commerce
Award for: Bhupinder Gupta takes personal interest in the performance of each student and supports the weak ones.
Challenges: People see government schools as low-grade institutions.
Way forward: Parents should play a healthy role in child development. School managements should help in transforming education.
‘Free us to teach children’ - Krishan Chand, 52, principal
Award for: Increased enrolment in the government school, encouraging poor children to join school.
Challenges: Students are losing interest in studies, since teachers are burdened with non-teaching activities.
Way forward: Teachers should be free to focus on teaching and the government should introduce innovative methods in its schools.
Sanskrit teacher’s mantra - Naresh Kumar, 50, Sanskrit
Award for: Good results, taking pains to ensure that every student understands the subject and weak students are encouraged.
Challenges faced: It’s hard to get students interested in any language, since it is not job-oriented. The government should look into this matter.
The way forward: Parents, teachers, and society in general should motivate students to study languages.
- Saurabh Chauhan