Education Reviews

‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teachers: The Heroes of Real India’ review: A difference in the classroom

Ask an average person about government schools and the first reaction would most likely be ‘ill equipped’ followed by ‘teachers don’t turn up’. But that’s not true of all government schools. And that’s what S. Giridhar sets out to document in Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teachers: The Heroes of Real India. From the outset, the author makes it clear where his sympathies lie.

The first registrar and COO of the Azim Premji University, Giridhar was also one of the earliest members of the Azim Premji Foundation and has spent over 20 years documenting public education in India.

In this book, he writes about teachers who have changed the way people look at government schools. The opening chapter is about improvements: getting books and uniforms on time, decline in caning and fights among children and a major reduction in teacher absenteeism. This is only the beginning. Giridhar goes on to show his readers that government school teachers don’t really deserve the bad press they get.

He writes about headmasters and teachers who have worked to get the community involved in the school; who encourage parents to educate their children instead of sending them to work. And ensure — by letting children of migrant labourers stay in school — that they don’t drop out. For children to get food and school supplies even if they have to pay for it, coping with bureaucracy and red tape, the teachers ensure that schools get better infrastructure — whether as classrooms, toilets, drinking water or playgrounds, teaching aids and training and so forth.

Several challenges

Giridhar also points out the challenges are different in each place. “In Uttarkashi, the terrain and climate are a logistical trial for children and teachers alike; in the plains of Udham Singh Nagar, the pupil-teacher ratio is inimical to a conducive learning environment; Yadgir in northeast Karnataka grapples with the problem of irregular livelihoods because of the migration of parents...; and Sirohi in southern Rajasthan which has a significant tribal population (Garasias, Bhils and others) who speak their own dialects, needs teachers who can use a mix of Marwari, the local dialect and Hindi to initiate any interaction in the classroom.”

What kind of a school do you want? This was the question Harish Chandra Singh Rawat of Government Model Primary School in Shivlalpur, Uttarakhand, took to the community.

At the other end of the country in Gedhalamari, Karnataka, Sangaiah is waging a battle to ensure that the boy:girl ratio of the school remains at 50:50. “I don’t want the girls to drop out of school at any cost,” he says.

All this is stated in a lucid and simple manner. In fact the matter-of-fact writing makes one wonder if we’ve gotten ourselves mixed up. Yes, there are over a million government schools and Giridhar has visited only 110. But are we taking into account our urban privileged view? Why cannot a government school have the same facilities as an urban private school without having to fight for it? Are we focusing too much on the few bad apples and not considering the roomful of untainted good ones?

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teachers: The Heroes of Real India; S. Giridhar, Westland, ₹499.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 5:20:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/ordinary-people-extraordinary-teachers-the-heroes-of-real-india-review-a-difference-in-the-classroom/article31300294.ece

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