The Story about the Ward with the School

by Remy Hans, Research Associate

A few weeks ago, I visited a primary school in one of the Gram Panchayats of Kannur district in Kerala. Typically in other states, the survey takes place on a Saturday and Sunday. Since schools are closed on Saturdays in Kerala, the ASER survey is conducted on a Friday and Saturday. 

The surveyors conducting the survey in this Gram Panchayat were young and enthusiastic Grade 12 students. They were accompanied by the Programme Officer of NSS. The role of the Programme Officer role was to monitor the survey being conducted by the surveyors.

The surveyors reached the Gram Panchayat office at 10 am. They informed the Sarpanch about the ASER survey and collected the map of the Gram Panchayat from him. There were 16 wards in that Gram Panchayat. The surveyors made 16 chits and selected 4 wards to be surveyed.

So, since it was a Friday, the survey team visited the government primary school first. There was only one government primary school in those 4 wards selected. The survey team and I took 2 buses to reach the ward with the school.

Children on the merry-go-round

The ward with the school was approximately 25 kilometres away from the ward where the Gram Panchayat was located. It took us almost 1.5 hours to reach the ward with the school. We waited at one bus stop for 20 minutes for transport us to the next ward where we could get a bus that would take us to the ward with the school.

We finally reached the ward with the school. The ward was beautiful, surrounded by lush green trees and rubber plantation. The terrain of this ward was different from the ward with the Gram Panchayat office. The ward with the school was hilly. As much as I enjoy descending slopes, I dreaded the climb uphill.

After the much enjoyed walk down the 
slope, we found the school. When the surveyors and I entered the school, the children were quietly sitting in their classrooms eagerly waiting to be served lunch. The kitchen was situated close to the Head Master’s office and the office had a beautiful aroma of Sambar and freshly cooked rice.

Since it was lunchtime, the Head Master very kindly offered us lunch. We all ate lunch together and talked about the ASER survey. After we ate lunch, the surveyors sat down with the HM to collect data such as student enrolment figures, number of teachers appointed and present on the day of our visit.

The Programme Officer and the surveyors at the HM’s office
While the children were finishing up their lunch, the surveyors observed the facilities available in the school. After that we all had to wait for 1 hour in the school. After lunch, 1 hour is allocated for children to play football, badminton.

We waited in the school until the children finished their sports/games session. There was an extra pair of badminton racquets and the surveyors decided to take a little break from the formats and started to play badminton. In the meantime, the Programme Officer and I chatted with the Head Master for almost an hour.

One hour was up. The teachers and the Head Master asked all the children to assemble in one of the two classrooms. It was time for an afternoon school assembly.

Before they could proceed with the assembly, the surveyors took a head count of the children class wise to enter the number of children present on the day of visit in the survey sheet. After the head count, we were asked by the Head Master to stay back for the assembly. We happily accepted the invitation. The Head Master made himself comfortable at the back of the class where some of the younger students were seated. He called upon two girls to lead the assembly. They were seated on their teacher’s chair in front.

One of the girls stood up and thanked everyone for coming together for the assembly. Then, she politely asked one of the boys to stand up. The boy thanked her and he sang a song. I did not understand what was happening and decided to just sit quietly without asking the teacher who was sitting next to me to give me an explanation on the activities taking place.

The girl stands up again and thanks the boy and asks everyone to applaud. Each child was called by the girl sitting in front and this process continued until everyone got a chance to share something with everybody. Some children chose to sing a song. Some children cracked a joke. Some recited their favourite stories and poems.

The assembly held in this school was a unique one, very unlike my school assembly experiences. The purpose of the assembly in this primary school was to have children communicate with one another through any way they wanted to. Since I was present in the room too, I inevitably became part of the assembly. The assembly ended with me singing a Bollywood song. The children were ecstatic and they clapped while I sang. They were indeed a polite audience who did not mind a horrible singer singing with some serious inabilities to take control over her own vocal muscles!!!