Most schools have very strict tardy rules. But this school in Nakha, Lakhimpur Khedi, UP, is bending rules to ensure that no student gets left behind. All thanks to Seema, a student of class VI, in the Jagsar Upper Primary School of Nakha Block.
Seema still remembers the day when she had reached school well past the morning bell and morning prayers. "I was coming back to school after having missed classes for two days in a row. I was scared of being hauled up, and was trying to enter my classroom unnoticed, but Sangam Ma'am caught me," she recalls.
Sangam Verma, assistant teacher in the school, wanted to know the reason for her tardiness and what seemed to be habitual absenteeism. Initially, Seema was hesitant and did not know what to say. But on repeated questioning, she broke down. And what she told Sangam Ma'am melted away the teacher's anger.
"My day starts early. I first go to the farm where I work for as long as required – often up to 8 hours. Then I come home and do household chores. I also prepare the lunch. And after doing all this, if I even mention that I want to go to school, my mother threatens to break my legs," the girl tearfully told her teacher.
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Hearing Seema, speak out, Manisha, Priyanka and Anuradha also shared their stories – they too were fighting a similar battle on the home front in their journey to get an education.
This opened Sangam Ma'am's eyes to the bigger issue that needed to be addressed. "We realised that despite being eager learners, these girls were suffering," she said. The problem they identified was parents who wanted the girls to work in the homes. They realized the need for changing mindsets. So a group of lady teachers met with the parents to counsel them. "However, what the parents said revealed another facet to the issue. They said that they leave for work early – either for jobs or in the fields. In this scenario if the girls did not help with the work in the fields and with the cooking, how would the family eat? After all, one can live without an education, but one cannot live without food.
The teachers were now faced with a dilemma. The girls want to study, but the parents' point of view was also a harsh practical reality. "We also realized that while the girls do want to study, to come to school regularly, they have responsibilities and we as schools, instead of being enablers, were standing in the way of their getting an education. With our strict timings, we are preventing them entry to schools," said Sangam Ma'am.
But a little brainstorming helped and as they say, where there is a will, there is a way. A way was found. The school administration decided to become flexible about the timings. So today, the girls come to school – they miss the morning assembly, but they attend all the classes. Tardiness may be high, but absenteeism is down.
Seema continues to contribute in the daily household chores, but she does it happily, without resentment, as she knows that after "homework" she can look forward to classwork.