In the remote interiors of Bihar, a state with only 61% literacy rate, educational awareness is still deplorable. Inside the mud huts with thatched roofs, books are as scarce as any electrical appliance. Prakash Pandey, an Indian Air Force employee, hailed from one such village. When he returned to his hometown after years of service, little did he know that a hard-hitting picture of poverty and illiteracy awaited him. However, not being one to give up, Prakash was determined to transform the scenario. Come today, Prakash Pandey is running a modern-day school ‘Paathshala’, which provides quality education to over two hundred kids in the village and adjoining localities.
The persisting problems in education
Growing up in remote Chorauwan village in Chapra district of Bihar, Prakash experienced every little struggle of acquiring a good education. Classes used to be held inside mud huts, fees were as less as thirty to fifty rupees per month. “Sometimes, we were unable to pay that much as well. I had to discontinue my studies for a while after my intermediate because of financial constraints,” Prakash shares with Efforts For Good.
Prakash persevered and managed to secure a coveted job in the Indian Air Force. Upon returning to his village, he realised that the situation has not changed much even in a decade. “Maybe now there are more schools in number, but the quality of education is still in shambles. People are still struggling to pay nominal fees like a hundred or two hundred rupees per month. As a result, many children are not even attending schools,” Prakash expresses with regret.
Old syllabus and lack of good teachers
The impractical and obsolete curriculum comprises the next part of the educational story. Most of these villages, surviving below the poverty level, are yet to receive proper electric connectivity. “Then how can you expect them to learn computer basics or use any other digital device, which is the need of the hour?” asks Prakash.
He also regrets the sad truth that nowadays the school teachers are selected and induced by the village ‘Mukhiya’ (head) as per his/her choice, not on the basis of academic qualifications. Needless to mention, the quality of teaching is ought to decline if favouritism or nepotism comes in the way.
“If I am seeing such deterioration and then going on to live my life outside, that is no solution”, declares Prakash. He saw quite a number on non-profit foundations organising weekend schools in the area. But, he wanted a more impactful and permanent solution.
‘School Chale’ Campaign
He surveyed a radius of five kilometres around his village and came across a shocking reality. “Hundreds of children were being deprived of basic education simply because their parents were least aware of its importance. They would not mind letting their kids fly kites or run around all day long,” he tells us.
He invested all his savings from six years of service and in July 2017, Prakash started his school Paathshala inside the premises of his own home with thirty-five local kids.
Prakash also launched the ‘School Chale’ (Let’s Go To School) campaign in the area and gave children books, bags and stationery kits, to encourage them to attend schools. “One day of the campaign brought seventy new kids the next day to my school,” he shares.
The special teachers of Paathshala
The teachers at Paathshala are no ordinary ones and deserve a special mention. Prakash witnessed how women in his village are still lacking independence. “Even my own sister, despite being educated, did not have the confidence to visit the market by herself, let alone having a career,” he narrates, implying how most girls in her area are facing the same.
He amassed a group of young women with requisite qualifications and trained them for eight months in practical skills like computer, English, socio-environmental awareness and leadership modules. “Now these women are serving as teachers in my school and they are doing an amazing job,” he informs with pride. The women are now earning decently at the school and some of them are employed as home tutors as well – Paathshala has given them the independence they always dreamt of.
A long, long way to go
From starting with only thirty-five children to housing more than two hundred students from classes 1 to 8, Paathshala has come a long way in one year. Prakash has succeeded in gifting his dream school with beautiful classrooms, computers, projectors and other digital modes of academics. He plans to have a broader outreach to neighbouring villages and educate hundreds of other children as well.
Prakash has also conducted miscellaneous campaigns including sanitary napkin distribution, environmental awareness etc.