mid-day's 39th anniversary: Teacher who brought twist to the tale

By Pallavi Smart | Mumbai

A Mumbai man left home and hearth to make class meaningful and dramatic for Warli kids, who now can't get enough of a textbook he created from scratch

Rajan Garud uses his second passion, acting, to make class interesting at Aamchi Shala, Palghar. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

Rajan Garud, 29
Zilla parishad teacher, Palghar

Rajan Garud had a peculiar problem when he took on a job as zilla parishad schoolteacher at Aamchi Shala in Khoricha Pada of Pargaon village. He had to find a way to convince the students of this tribal settlement in Palghar district to return to class the next day. He knew that most of them had little clue what the Marathi textbooks carried, and were losing interest in school.

Spending time with them introduced Garud to the crux of the problem — the kids could not connect with the words, because they didn't speak the language. The visuals too were alien, because they were cut off from most experiences in this remote hamlet. In their textbook, the letter 'a' from the Marathi alphabet corresponded with 'ananas' (pineapple), which the kids couldn't identify with. They hadn't heard the word or seen the fruit, let alone tasted it. Garud's solution was to change the textbook.  Independently, he developed the Class 1 Balbharati curriculum in the local language of the tribals, Warli. And so, now, 'a' corresponded to 'anuna', which means custard apple in the Warli language. "They were getting frustrated trying to remember things they hadn't heard before. But, I noticed that their interest immediately piqued if they were given references from their own language or surroundings," recalls Garud.

Next, he recreated the traditional Old Lady and the Pumpkin story in Warli and performed its dramatised version for the class. The response encouraged him to learn a new language at 23. It took Garud close to six years to get a hold of Warli, all the while receiving help from the locals including the then principal of the school, Jaywant Pared. Today, the new textbook carries the original content in Marathi, with a corresponding page in Warli. Seeing Garud's success, other teachers at Aamchi Shala have turned to the book, too. At a time when the state government announced the closing of 1,300 schools with less than 20 students each, Garud's experiment is turning heads.His project has been rewarded by the state government, and was exhibited at the Shikshanachi Wari, a state government initiative to recognise, reward and publicise innovative teaching and learning methods introduced by government schoolteachers.

Garud says, "These children come from a background where schooling is considered a waste of time. They would rather play at home or in the woods until they come of age, when their parents take them along to earn a living. Tribal parents don't believe in education. From what they earn, buying mutton and liquor is priority, not notebooks." Despite the challenge, Garud travels 20km every day to get to the two-room school. His family lives 220 km away in Mumbai, lamenting how he gave up a glorious career in a megalopolis for little gain in a hamlet. But Garud, says, "I had decided that if I was going to make a career in teaching, I'd do it where I could make a difference. I was also passionate about acting. Now, I get to perform for my students!"

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