Not just schoolteachers, but changemakers in education

The Indian Express
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Fifty-five teachers from government and other schools from across the country come together to share simple, innovative approaches they practise to redefine learning. SHIKHA SHARMA profiles a few of these micro-innovators.

Vivek Chauhan, Principal

Government Primary School, Jaswala, Rajasthan

Every time an official would visit the government primary school in Jaswala, Rajasthan, its principal, Vivek Chauhan, remembers feeling embarrassed when students were quizzed on their vocabulary. “Woh cat ko kutta bolte the, mango ko more; dedh baje good morning kehte the aur nashte ko lunch (For them, cat was a dog and mango a peacock; at 1.30 pm, they would wish others good morning and refer to breakfast as lunch),” Chauhan recalls. Things, however, hit a low when a local newspaper reported ‘the funny English’ the children spoke.

“I knew I had to do something, but didn’t know what,” he says.

When all else failed, Chauhan devised a technique of his own, using the ubiquitous attendance register. “Instead of calling out a student by his name, I’d address him using a fruit’s name in English. The student would answer the roll call by responding with the Hindi word for the fruit,” he says.

To begin with, students found it funny, but soon the change was visible. Students not only responded to names like orange and papaya, they reciprocated with the correct Hindi equivalents too. Encouraged, Chauhan extended the technique to other things — names of vegetables, birds, animals, countries and their capitals, scientists and their discoveries, books and their authors, etc. “I devoted five minutes to the exercise everyday. The children have learnt approximately 400 new English words in the last one year,” he says.

Chauhan is one of 55 micro-innovators — teachers from the country’s many government and budget schools, who may not have the desired resources or capital at their disposal, but who are constantly pushing the boundaries when it comes to improving learning outcomes through sheer creativity, enterprise and innovations.

At India’s first teacher changemakers summit, organised by STIR (Schools and Teachers Innovating for Results) Education, they came together to share simple, innovative approaches they practise in their own schools, revealing how small, novel methods have redefined learning in the environment of their own little schools.


Banraj Singh Shekhawat (Class 3 teacher)
Satya Bharti Government Primary School, Dhani Pipliyan Amer, Rajasthan

A librarian at the school, Shekhawat was taking a walk when he chanced upon several children sitting under a village tree, exchanging bedtime stories told by their grandparents. “We had storybooks in our school, but children rarely picked up these books because they found it difficult to read. The books were in English. Yet, I wondered — which child doesn’t like stories?” he says.

To encourage a love for stories, he first started asking students to share village stories and folktales their elders told them and made them narrate these in the school assembly. Later, he encouraged them to pen down these stories and put them in the school library for others to read. “So, the school now has 200 new books of its own, written by the students. Anyone can pick up a book and read a story, or better still, be a writer and write their own,” he says.


H K Sharma (Principal)
Janta Modern Public School, Vijay Park, Delhi

Sharma observed how some parents — especially those with little formal education — were not enthusiastic about educating their children. He tried reaching out to the parents and talking to them to change their mindset, but to no avail.

It was then that Sharma prepared a questionnaire for the students to understand their parents better. “The questions were simple. They pertained to who watched TV with them and for how long, whether they liked Saturdays better or Sundays, did anyone in the family drink, smoke or gamble, profession of their parents, etc,” he says.

He collated and analysed the data, and then met the parents. “The idea was to make them realise that their behaviour impacts their children, and suggesting changes the parents can make. The basic question is always the same: How do they want their child to be in the next few years? “Then, depending on individual cases, I recommend things parents can do to help the child become that person,” he says.

Sharma has been undertaking the exercise for the last 15 years, twice a year for a week.


Poonam Katyal (Class 9 & 10 science teacher)
Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Zeenat Mahal, Jaffrabad

In a class of 74 students, Poonam observed that there were a few girls from nearby slums who were always ‘sluggish’. Studying them closely, she first identified students who looked weak or fell ill regularly. Then, she started collecting background information about these students — such as number of family members and average monthly income of the family, along with individual students’ daily food habits. Correlating all the data, and with some help from the internet, she then met the children at their homes, suggesting ways to parents to increase nutrition in their diets.

“Since the girls belong to poor backgrounds from nearby slums and JJ colonies, their excuse is that they cannot afford proper nutrition. My single advice to them is that you can be poor, but still get proper nutrition by sticking to seasonal produce. I’m not going to say that the girls have suddenly started topping classes, but yes, there is a clear boost in their performance with respect to both academics and well-being,” she says.


Mamta (Class 8 teacher)
Government Girls Middle School, Nand Nagri, Delhi

It all started with Mamta noticing that a few girls paid very little attention to anything she taught in class. Upon closer investigation, she discovered that the girls were facing issues like domestic violence at home and eve-teasing while coming to school.

In order to help the girls, Mamta started a little practice. “I asked them to share any problems they faced by writing to me anonymously on a piece of paper and putting it in this box I keep in the classroom,” she says. “Next day, without disclosing the name of the child, I read out these problems and advise the girls on what they can do about it. It may be a small thing, but it has led to better trust between me and my students,” she says.


Shaheen Saifi (Class 3 teacher)
Madarsa-E-Jadeed, Seelampur

“My students just hated Maths. Every time, I started giving them lessons in Maths, I would just lose their attention,” she recalls. That was till she deliberately started making mistakes while solving problems on the board. “I’d make a mistake and all of them would just jump up from their seats to correct me,” she says.

“So this is what I started doing. As soon as I entered class, I would inform the children in advance about the number of mistakes I planned to make and asked them to spot it. Maths unhe pasand ho na ho, meri galtiyan nikalna unhe bahat pasand aata hai (Whether they like Maths or not, they love spotting the errors I make),” she jokes. “I now have all their attention and what’s more, they are more focused on problem-solving since they are closely observing the lesson I am teaching,” she says.


Lata Koranga (Class I teacher)
Aryan Public School, Seelampur

Koranga noticed that even though her students could identify alphabets through pictures (C for cat, D for dog), they clearly had trouble identifying alphabets on their own. In order to familiarise them with letters, she made cutouts of all English alphabets and pasted them on the classroom door. “I would tell them in the morning what the alphabet was called. Then, I would stand at the door and let the child enter the classroom after he pronounced the letter correctly.

Every time, a child walks in and out of the classroom, he is supposed to pronounce the alphabet. Looking at the same alphabet through the day, the child finally learns,” she says.

She replicates the practice with Hindi alphabets, numbers etc. “Usi ki chutti hoti hai jo sahi letter batata hai. So, in a way, students are forced to learn,” she says.


Jyoti Bhardwaj (Class 9 teacher)
Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Zeenat Mahal, Jaffrabad

While teaching, Bhardwaj noticed that students in her class were not able to grasp the rules of Hindi grammar properly and often got confused. So, in order to help students understand and remember the rules, she started creating poems to teach children basic grammar lessons in nouns, pronouns, adjectives and sentence formation.

“For example, for noun, the poem goes like this — Vyaktee vastu ya ho sthaan, main deti sabko ek naam, jaati ho ya bhaav anjaan, main deti sabko pehchaan. Mere teen bhed hain paate, vyakti, jaati aur bhaav batate, Naam dena hai mera kaam, Mera khud ka hai sangya naam!”

“Students enjoy the lessons more when you teach them through poems. Sure, it requires some creativity from my side too, but they remember the poems for a long time this way,” she says.


Satwant Singh Dhillon (Principal)
Rose Public Senior Secondary School, Nayagaon, Punjab

Strongly against the practice of students going for tuitions, Dhillon wanted to improve the learning of students who hail from financially unstable and illiterate backgrounds. So, he devised a method of his own. For Classes 8 and 12, for all subjects, after finishing a couple of chapters, he asks every student from the class to prepare a small question paper for the entire class with three-five questions. “So, with 30 students in the class, each student gets to solve 29 different question papers for each chapter,” he says.

Then, the student who sets an individual question paper is asked to mark the papers. Length and time allotted for solving a paper varies as the year progresses. Satwant has been practising this method for the last 15 years with the result that his students don’t take extra tuitions.


Laxman Ram (Class I teacher)
Government Upper Primary School, Bagundu village, Rajasthan

Ram noticed that even though students at his school knew how to count, they did not have any concept of numbers. “Woh ungliyan dikha ke nahi bata pate the ki do aur chaar kya hai,” he recalls.

Till, he started using wooden sticks and bundles to simplify basic mathematical concepts like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. “In early stages, the concepts are important. Through this playful exercise, I help students understand the fundamentals,” he says.


Anita (Class 2 teacher)
Satya Bharti Government Upper Primary School, Haryana

Anita was finding it difficult to get her students learn new words. Since most of their parents were not educated, she knew that the only place they could learn new words was at school.
To make them learn new words, she designed a process where she asks students to collect English words they commonly use in their daily lives. The process was named as ‘pitara’, where the students created chits of words with their meanings.

“I ask students to collect new words everyday, present it to the class with the correct spelling and meaning, and then the word goes into the pitara. At the end of the week, all the words are taken out of the pitara and students share new words they learnt during the week,” she says.