Bharat Vidyalaya Notes, Jan 2020
We visited Bharat Vidyalay again in 2020. Had visited the school five years ago with Vijay Chheda and my kids. Now was time for our teachers to visit. Bharat Vidyalay is a live example of what CSR should actually be doing. It’s journey begins before the days of government mandated CSR. It was started by the founding chairman of fleetguard-filtrum filters, Arun Kirloskar. He was a full time resident in the school, in the first five years of the school’s inception. The school is unaided. It is affiliated to the Maharashtra SSC board. The average student at Bharat Vidyalaya scores 80% in her board exams. In the five years of SSC batches that have passed out, 6 students have scored more than 95% over the years. There has been only one failure. Most of the students do an ITI course or diploma after they finish Grade 10, something that I have been advocating to our students as well.
Every year about 32 children are taken in Nursery. The only two criteria for selection are: the students should be from the neighbourhood, also your family income should place you below the poverty line. There are no lateral admissions. Poverty is the last thing that you think off, when you look at the infrastructure of the school. New computers are purchased every 5 years. All the software in this computer is legal. Abhimanyu mentioned that even when the use film songs in the school, they try to ensure that there are no copyrights in world. He pointed out one incident where the used Taare Zameen Par song, and had a letter of apology written by their lawyer to Mr Aamir Khan. My advice to Abhimanyu was that instead of having separate machines have a single server. It will reduce the software and hardware cost.
Abhimanyu, who was the one who managed to get us the permission to visit the school, told us that the building is designed to withstand the highest levels of earthquakes, being in the Koyna backwaters. Abhimanyu used an interesting analogy of construction and education. Bharat Vidyalaya tries to create as good a foundation for its students as it did for its building structure. So the early years of education have had a lot of thought going into their design. Fun fact, there is no writing work in books in the kindergarten classes. Instead the focus is on recognising shapes and sight words. Using the home at the centre, students explore concepts in language, math, science, art and environment.
Teachers are called kakas and mavshis. We were happy to see Mavshis taking classes happening in open air. As Abhimanyu puts it, bhinti bahr cha shikshan. There are three groups in every class. Group 1 consists of kids who are able to finish their assignments first time. Group 2 is one which requires 3-4 trials to finish the assignment. And Group 3 takes a long long time to work on the assignments. These are the remedial students. And teachers spend maximum time with these kids. For group 1 and group 2 a lot of peer learning happens. The student teachers are called shikshak mitra. For Group 1, extra assignments are given so that students are occupied. Otherwise they can become a distraction to the rest of the class. The analogy Abhimanyu uses is of a staircase. Group 1 can jump over the 1 foot stairs without a problem. For group 2, teachers try to reduce the step height from 1 ft to 6 inches to 3 inches. And for the remedial students they actually build ramps. In spite of this discrimination, there is no sense of inequality. Teachers are super patient, and are given targets, that map the progress of the slow learners.
Tuitions are not allowed in the school. An interesting part is that the school actually does not give importance to examinations in the Junior classes. It sees grades as a byproduct of good education. But things change from 8th. Students are moved up from the floor to benches in grade 9. This is to ensure that students get practice on writing their board exams. One interesting kaizen related to results. Students were finding it difficult to do their studies before their board exams in their small homes. So one of the trustees offered use of the rooms in his own house at Raviwar Peth in Wai. That is now used as a study room.
Earlier the fee was zero for everything. But then they found that the facilities were being misused. Students were misplacing pencils at high frequency. Uniforms were unclean and in tatters. Now a fee structure has been brought in. Two uniforms are given every year, but students have to pay for one of the uniforms, a very reasonable 300 rupees. Now a lot of parents are happy with older uniforms and don’t ask for new ones. 20% of stationery costs and 20% of annual trips also have to be paid for. The amount is not too much – it’s about rupees 60. Also students have to pay for the dresses et al for the Annual Day function. This costs about 200 rupees, but parents seem to be ok with that.
Some of the more interesting kaizens adopted by the school:
- Every child of the School has his performance displayed on a board, located either inside or outside the class. As you walk past classes in the corridor, you understand the transition of students from KG to 10th standard. Btw, the notice board content is changed every 2 months.
- The school believes in project based learning. The project work is typically tuned to the environment – featuring current seasons, and related foods. In lower standards, the entire class does these projects together. In higher classes, there are more projects, which are done in smaller teams.
- Most of the teaching aids, like flash cards, are prepared by teachers themselves. What I liked was the laminated worksheets. Whenever possible they get it done from the children. Here are some stones, which are used in math class.
- Students are given mixed grain biscuits, which improve the haemoglobin level. Sometimes when there are medical problems, students are referred to doctors of the village. They are not charged any money from the doctors as they are there from Bharat Vidyalaya.
- Shalu Mati is used in school activities. After people have finished work with Shalu Mati, it is ground back to dust and reused.
- Variety in assignments is important. One interesting assignment that I saw was when students have to go and interview a person in their neighbourhood. Not all of them go and interview their kiranawala. Some go to the vada pav wala, others to the doctor, and a few to even the policeman. The assignments make interesting reading for the teacher.
- There is a KBC style quiz every Saturday. This helps in the presentation and communication skills of students, since it involves talking.
- There is a helper teacher in every KG class.
- Kindergarten students had to pick up a name plate, which had a magnet attached to it. And then stick it on to a steel sheet. This relieves the teacher of the chore of attendance. At the same time, it allows a student to recognise her own name.
- There are no bags till 4th standard. Some homework is required, so they have started giving notebooks. I believe it’s better to give worksheets.
- Students start learning statistics and computers from grade 4.
- From grade 7 onwards, students are started to be nurtured towards entrepreneurship. The school gives each student a hundred rupees. They are supposed to come up with the plan, document it, and look at a competitive analysis. They are then supposed to present, and defend their plan. And then are supposed to get a return on their 100 Rs. investment in a month’s time.
We requested Abhimanyu to allow us to attend some teacher sessions, and record them. But he was not keen. The school does not want to publicize itself. Education gets hampered when there are too many visitors. We were short of time, so did not interact with the teaching team. It was a curated visit of the school facilities. We went back impressed by the school’s philosophy. Would have been happy to also share our own experiments with the BV team. Hopefully, next time.
Bharat Vidyalaya, 2013 Visit
After retiring as CEO of Kirloskar Cummins, Arun Kirloskar started the school in 2003 for the rural poor. Arun is extremely well read on education and brings a corporate attitude to schooling. The website is http://src-charity.org/ The school is set on 2 acres of land. There are 30 students per class and about 300 in all. It is a Ground + 1 structure with a central open courtyard. There is a big auditorium on the first floor. What distinguishes the school is the multiple labs – apart from the usual Computer, Physics, Chemistry and Biology labs, there is the Art Lab, Music room, a History lab, Geography lab, Marathi Lab, Hindi Lab and English lab. One thing which I found of interest in the language labs was the diagram which identified sounds with their sources.
Another thing that fascinated me was special shelves for Bags. I have been toying around with the idea of having student lockers in our schools. The idea that stuck me was that instead of having lockers, we can just have shelves which students can keep their bags in. No locking, no botheration. And hopefully they would not keep anything valuable inside. Reminds me of villages where no one locks their doors – and there are no robberies.
One kaizen was the Notice boards covered with newspapers. It helps reduce the use of pins, which can be safety hazards. Additionally, it ensures that the board behind remains usable for a long time. The idea that I have is to just have a formica sheet and directly tape student work on the same.
One more kaizen was the KG Attendance system. Even though the kids cannot read, they are able to pick up their name badges from a bin and stick it on to a velcroed sheet. This way they start recognizing how their own names are written. Also teachers can easily identify who all are absent by just looking at the badges that remain in the bin.
There is an Open Library in the courtyard. My daughters fell in love with the Tinkles on the shelves. I was fascinated by the National Geographics. In addition to the open library, there is a closed one also. This has shelves on wheels, so that you can fit in the maximum number of books in minimum space. I however still feel that all books should be in the open, without glass or lock, so that they get used more often.
I fell in love was the Vegetable patches. Students take care of the same and they even manage to sell the extra produce at times. Lovely concept. We had experimented with the same in Peepal Tree, Bilaspur. Am convinced that this has to be an essential feature of all our schools. (Unfortunately rules out the rabbits that we were planning to keep J)
A typical Maharashtra practice is to remove your footwear when you enter a room. It keeps the room clean and gives a semi-religious aura to a classroom. The school follows this practice – and even adds on to it by having no chairs or desks in the classroom. Every one, including the teacher, sits on the floor. A small modification in this practice was done for classes 7 onwards. Because they have to appear for their board exams on desks, a few desks have been purchased to give them ‘practice’ for appearing in such tests.
Btw, the teacher in the school is called a Helper, which I think is a very appropriate terminology and indicates what is expected from the teacher. In one of the classes that I visited, the teacher was a student himself – and the rest of the class listened attentively to their friend. Children in a class are often divided into groups depending on how they understand the subject. Another interesting practice was giving individual problem sheets to students. This way each student can pace things in her own way – and there is no pressure that the entire class has to finish the problem together.There is emphasis on Project Work. One of the projects that students had just finished working on was water shortage. Arun mentioned an interesting comment made by a student working on a project – what if there were no plants? He wondered how we would burn our dead in that case..
Students come in at 0830, but the school starts at 1000. Am not sure what happens between 0830 to 1000, but would be very happy to see if students use this time for reflection. There are classes between 1000 – 1300 hrs and Labs after that. Students shift between labs during this time.
The school follows the state Board syllabus but gives its teachers a free hand to innovate as they teach. Here are a few of the innovations: History – start from family history and go back to the big bang, Geography – If you had to create a new island in the world, where would you locate it? The school takes help from the Pune based Gram Mangal for teaching methodology design. We must visit with them also to learn more. http://www.grammangal.org
In an Indian Express article of 2011, Arun mentions ‘We are not ‘marksists’ here’. However the school conscientiously makes all of its students appear for the 4th standard scholarship exams. The strike rate has been 100% in the last 3 years. The entire class has been receiving a scholarship. What I found even more interesting, was the student work displayed outside each of the class – without any corrections from the teachers. And as you moved down the corridor you could see the progress in both handwriting and ideas of the students. Finally what I loved most was that students are not terrified of authority. In most other schools, when the principal / trustees enter the class – there is a show of respect by everyone standing up and wishing the guests. I was pleasantly surprised by the neglect that we received when we visited the classroom. Life goes on, without interruption, as visitors like me come and go.
Vijay Chheda, my friend who took me around, exclaimed that what he was seeing was the International Baccaulerate system, translated into the Marathi. And that indeed is the need of the hour. We need more Bharat Vidyalayas, or the ideas of the Bharat Vidyalayas multiplied across our country’s schools. As a businessman, Vijay ponders on the limitations of charity. How can we make these schools economically sustainable. One of the ideas is the use of RTE – but Arun’s experience of the RTE has been dismal. The government babus insist that it is not to exceed 25% – and when the funds will get disbursed remains a mystery. Probably we would have future generations of these students contributing as a token of appreciation to the institution that got them out of poverty. It would be early days to comment on whether that would happen. The idea that looks most promising, is to have a 50-50 mix of paying and free students, so that the school can be self-sustaining.
Economics of a Frugal School
The school is designed is to have only one division for every standard. Nagesh recommends this as an ideal design. In addition, he feels that an ideal class should have only 30 students. So that makes the ideal school sized at 13 x 30 = 400 students. We work backwards to find out what the spend on infrastructure can be. Assume a fee of 1500 per month. About 300 paying students. So revenue would be about 54 lakh. We will require 20 teachers. Assume a salary of 10,000 per month. Also 5 support staff, paid 5 k. So salary bill would be about 30 lakh a year. Add 2 lakh a year for phone, light, water et al. And about 5 lakh for sinking fund and surplus. So total of 37 lakh. Which means a budget of 54 – 37 = 17 lakh for rentals. About 1.5 lakh a month. For a primary school upto 4th standard, number of classes is 7. So 200 students. Assume 180 pay, so revenue is 32 lakh. About 12 teachers and 3 helpers required. Salary bill about 17 lakh. Add 2 lakh a year for phone, light, water et al. And about 4 lakh for sinking fund and surplus. So total of 23 lakh. Which means a budget of 32 – 23 = 9 lakh for rentals. About 75,000 a month.