A primary school in Kardelwadi, a small village about 60 kilometers east of Pune, operates every day of the year and has not had a holiday for two decades. Experts from the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) have come to the village twice this year, who live there consecutively, to understand exactly how it works 365 days a year.
The school is run by a couple, Dattatreya and Bebinanda Sakat, both teachers of Zilla Parishad. Both were appointed to the school in 2001. The school has not closed its doors to students for a single day in the last 20 years. And the Sakats have never taken a vacation since, avoiding weddings and funerals to ensure that school never had a break.
His efforts have been recognized with various accolades: Zilla Parishad, District, State and Central Government awards, with Bebinanda also receiving a President’s National Teacher Award.
“I was transferred here after 11 years of service in another school. What I arrived at was an old one-story building with four rooms. Honestly, it was pretty lifeless. We started with small things like gardening, painting figures on the walls, making toys with clay to liven up the look and atmosphere of the school. We saw that the children were interested in the activities, so we decided not to limit them to textual learning. We allowed them to move freely between classes. Some students came even on weekends to do some activities, so we started coming too and that’s how it started,” recalled Dattatreya.
Realizing that coming to school on weekends keeps students engaged and productive, the Sakat couple started organizing special activities for students for free. Among other things, students paint, draw, watch movies or plays, make objects on the potter’s wheel, garden, surf the Internet, and learn music.
Weekdays are also not regular by any means.
“It’s not just formal learning. The students help us clean the classrooms, water the plants. They own the school as much as we do. We teach them the syllabus as per Balbharati text book. Although this is a Marathi medium school, it is not only limited to that. We teach them English and even choose CBSE concepts, ICSE textbooks,” said Bebinanda.
He added, “Learning here is seamless and unrestricted. Every year, at least half of our class IV batch would clear the state scholarship exam, which is considered very tough. Many people are surprised how our students know so much, well beyond their age. This is what the NCERT team also wanted to study.”
A few villagers saw the changes in the school and participated by donating old computers, LCD screens and even an air conditioner. The couple turned one of the rooms into a lab, where students play games or now access the Internet for interactive lectures on a variety of topics chosen and curated by professors.
After the NCERT team’s visit, a letter was sent to Dinkar Temkar, a former director of primary education in Maharashtra. He said the team looked at the roles and functions of teachers and others in planning and implementing activities, the school’s teaching and learning process and the support it might need.
Dattatreya will retire next year. Bebinanda will do so in four years. “But we will keep coming to school. We don’t know what else to do, this is our life now,” he said.