GUWAHATI: For the children at East Siang district, nestled in the wild mountainous region of Arunachal Pradesh, waking up to salubrious climate is nothing new. But until a few years ago, many would not be able to pen down their experience of living in the picturesque valleys and hills due to lack of education and poor infrastructure at schools.
Things began to change only in 2018 after the authorities hit upon an idea of involving communities to boost the infrastructure of all 119 government schools in the district. The determination of villagers to develop the hitherto dilapidated schools slowly yielded results — locals took one step forward by contributing towards improving the physical infrastructure of schools while the government walked two steps. So far, renovation work in 80 of the 119 government schools has been completed.
In 69 schools, infrastructure was either built or developed under the convergence of two Central and state government schemes. To give a facelift to 11 others, former students, villagers and well-wishers came forward with some contributing in cash or kind, and others offering physical labour.
Donation drive yields results
For the 11 schools, officials of the education department, led by district magistrate Kinny Singh, had visited each village and sensitised the locals on the importance of education. “We had set up an alumni association in each village. We motivated the villagers to contribute to the schools’ infrastructure and send their kids there. Some contributed in cash, some in kind, while others did it physically. Once the schools were renovated, they had a sense of ownership,” Singh says, adding that “we also wanted to motivate them to focus on government schools”.
For voluntary contributions, the district authorities had created a WhatsApp group to motivate alumni, villagers and like-minded people. “The thought that we could motivate people for voluntary contributions made us decide on creating a WhatsApp group. Initially, 40-50 people from other areas were added to the group, followed by the addition of former students from local villages and villagers. The WhatsApp group members from outside would speak about the importance of education.
They would say that it is the responsibility of a community to take care of a school in its area. Soon, help started pouring in,” says Jongge Yirang, deputy director of school education. Simultaneously, a joint bank account was also opened. A committee was also constituted for the procurement of material and supervision. Around `10-12 lakh were donated. Every donation was updated on the WhatsApp group.
“The contributors suddenly had a sense of ownership. Communities felt the school renovated in their neighbourhood belongs to them. Now, they try to protect and maintain it. Also, the faith of parents in government schools has increased,” Yirang adds. The results are there for everyone to see. The boosting of infrastructure has increased enrolment by 200-300%.
What are the changes?
Under the initiative, school buildings, classrooms, toilets etc. were built. At some places, these were either renovated or repaired. Drinking water facility was put in place in schools. “We had launched the project in 2017-18. At that time, if a school had 50 students, it now has 150. The confidence of people in government schools has increased manifold,” Yirang says.
Usually, in the remote parts of the Northeast, not many parents send their children to schools. Some who do, they prefer private schools to government ones. Binoymoti Modi Tayeng, a teacher at a higher secondary school, says the contributions came mainly from alumni. The village youth extended physical labour. “I thought the school where I studied must not suffer. I feel the other contributors had a similar thought. After the infrastructure work, I have noticed a lot of changes, including a sharp rise in enrolment. Many students have left private schools to join the government ones.”
What is Mission 80%?
Under this project, schools with Classes X and XII are motivated to achieve a pass percentage of at least 80% — through interactive sessions. Top scorers are invited to these sessions, and felicitated.
“The efforts are reaping dividends. Previously, the schools used to have a pass percentage of 50-60%. Now, it is 70. A school had secured a pass percentage of 27% last year,” the DM says.