Dr. Rajiv Ranjan – The Principal of Simultala Awasiya Vidyalaya, Simultala, (SAV) Bihar – a prestigious Government Boarding Higher Secondary School, is a leading Educationist in the country. He is the Winner of many Awards and Accolades for his unique contribution in the field of school education. He is also the author of a book entitled “Akeli Sadak”, an anthology of Hindi poetry.
Education Post congratulates you on receiving the best Principal Award! Could you share some of your best practices for taking your school to new heights?
Thank you very much for the congratulations. However, through this interview, I would like to share this accolade jointly with colleagues and students as this could be possible due to their incessant efforts and perseverance. A principal is only as successful as his/her team of colleagues so they must also have the credit.
As regards the best practices, there is no magic at all; it’s just sticking to the basics i.e. keep the children close to books and away from distractions. Ours being a complete boarding school, we can do it without much hindrance. In fact, being a boarding school is an additional advantage and we are better placed to mould our children the way we wish to.
We follow a balanced routine with a constant focus on the wholesome development of a child by incorporating various co-curricular activities, informal teaching and counseling, self-study, peer study, and sports activities; rather than focusing only on academic sessions and creating marks-hungry monsters; and the result is that we get both a healthy and happy child and a child who can compete with the best without stress. We promote self-learning rather than putting pressure in the form of continuous and monotonous lectures by teachers in class. We do not promote the age-old practice of lecturing and giving some notes and handouts to children for memorizing.
We advise children to study in groups and get benefitted from each other’s strengths. Here we have to study the interests and strengths of each child because each child is very good in some subjects and not so good in some. After this analysis, we promote heterogeneous groups so that one’s weakness could be overcome by another’s strength.
Regular co-curricular activities like writing competitions, debates & discussions, painting, music, sports are some of our regular features. In fact, contrary to the prevalent norms of creating marks-hungry-dry-hearted-money-monsters we focus on grooming sensitive, responsible, integrated, and productive youths for the country and the world.
The COVID-19 created unprecedented situations for both teachers and students. How was this impact felt in education sector and how is your school handling this challenge?
COVID-19 crisis was so sudden and severe that it left the world dumbstruck. It was unexpected. Lockdown was imposed and all of a sudden, the world came to a standstill. Children of younger age groups became restless. Teachers were unable to think of ways and means to handle this crisis and save their students from depression. Governments were at a crossroads as how to devise plans to counter the crisis. In a nutshell, we can say that the pandemic hit the world very badly and education sector was no exception.
Our school also got closed and children had to be sent home. It took some time to realize that the lockdown was not going to end soon. Keeping children motivated and at the same time not letting their study suffer was a big challenge. We were in wait-and-watch situation for some time. But then we realized that we had to do something extra to keep the morale of our children high. So we decided to organize online classes and keep in constant touch with our students through different ways and means of communication. We kept counseling, teaching, helping and resolving their academic issues on regular basis.
Once Bihar was a seat of great learning but today it is lagging even in literacy rate, what would be your suggestions to improve literacy and restore the past glory?
It is really very difficult to realize and accept this harsh but a very bitter truth about the state of education in Bihar. We had the pride of institutions – two out of three great universities of ancient India i.e. Nalanda and Vikramshila Universities and learners from all over the world used to come here to pursue their studies. But, now the situation is just reverse and we see millions of students from Bihar leaving the state every year in search of good and quality education. Besides, we are losing billions every year in paying fees. Thus we are suffering not only on intellectual front but on economic front as well. Today Bihar stands third from the bottom in the list of literacy rate. With 70.9% overall literacy rate for Bihar is nearly 7% lower than the national average of 77.7%
This has not happened overnight. It’s the result of a gradual but continuous degradation in our commitment, sincerity and approach towards handling the education sector in Bihar.
Many factors are responsible for this. Teaching has no more remained a noble profession nor the teachers a respectable lot. Continuous and hateful negligence and humiliation of teachers in the hands of governments and disrespectful salaries and perks have distracted talented youths from this profession. The lack of political will to improve the situation is clearly visible for many decades. We need to change that.
The NEP-2020 could be the ray of hope in the dark tunnel. But only policy can do nothing. We need a committed government and a sincere bureaucracy for the successful implementation of the policy.
How can quality education be guaranteed, especially to the children of the poor and marginalized section of society?
When it comes to education, nobody should suffer just because of being poor or marginalized and the governments should be responsible to ensure this. Unfortunately in India we find three different types of India i.e. the one who have everything or the elite class, the second who just want to maintain the status quo and the third who are deprived of even the basic facilities. India being the welfare state, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure quality education for one and all. For this education has to come under the primary focus of agendas set by the government. Education is in the concurrent list of our constitution and thus the alarming disparity in approach, in curriculum design, in contents, and whatnots. We have to change this disparity and think for the whole country. If need be, let’s make it a matter of central government so that we can have uniformity in our education system. Until and unless we ensure uniformity, we cannot hope for quality education.
As an expert on school education, what are your thoughts on the need to design a common curriculum for the entire country?
This is what is required the most and sooner than later for the betterment of our education system. At present, we have many central boards (CBSE, ICSE) and state boards. Besides private schools are left scot free to design their own curriculum and select their own books and contents. The disparity and lack of uniformity in contents also promote regionalism and lead to weaken the nationalistic spirit. So I strongly feel that there should be one board and the curriculum should be uniform for the whole country.In this context, I recall my experience in Bhutan. There, students are given free books. And this applies even to the students studying in private schools. So this is how they avoid disparity of curriculum and content. India should do the same.
Given the fact that SAV has been a successful experiment in school education in Bihar, what could be some of the challenges in replicating this model in other Government Schools of the state?
Certainly the challenge will be budgetary because it’s going to put huge economic pressure and burden on the government if at all we think of replicating this model. However we also cannot deny the fact that if we could replicate this model and ensure the same for all the government schools this could create wonder and as you have raised the issue of Bihar lagging behind in education, replicating this model can change the scenario and Bihar could be once again at the driving seat. You may call me ambitious but I wish this model could be replicated for the whole country. This could also resolve all the issues raised above such as quality education to all without discrimination and bringing uniformity among the learners as well.