Nagesh Mone, Dravid High School, Wai
Nagesh Mone is the Principal at Dravid High School, Wai. The school was started in 1884 by the Deccan Education Society. In 1912, Mr Dravid gave a donation of 75,000 rupees and 40 tolas of gold. And the school was named after him. Before that it was called New English School, Wai. Being an old school, it is located right in the heart of the town. The school is a semi English School. It has been the leading school of the area for many decades. However, the last 5-6 years has seen a decline in its numbers as students transit more towards English medium schools. Being an aided school, teacher salaries are paid by the Government of Maharashtra. School fees are about 1200 rupees a year. And even then, there are defaulters. One area of concern is the quality of teachers. There has been no new recruitment since 2012. And the government, strapped for funds, has put a freeze on recruitment. We discussed the idea of starting an unaided section in the school, and using those funds to recruit younger, and hopefully more inspired, teachers. This is something that the Deccan Education Society is already doing at college level. Nagesh felt that it’s something that could be tried out at Wai also. The current way of raising funds is mostly through CSR, and donations from alumni. I also asked Nagesh to look at the idea of using some of the alumni as volunteer teachers. Assume about half the population of Wai would be an alumni of the school.
Was disappointed that my interaction with the teachers was quite limited. My worry with sarkari teachers today is that they are overpaid and overworked, thanks to the teacher shortage. Three of the classes that we manage to see, were working on auto mode, with some of the students doing the teaching. Our Teach Like A Champion again fizzled out over here. There was a sports meet planned the next day of all the schools of DES society. All teachers and students were busy in the preparation for the sports meet. Students were in charge of de-stoning the ground. Wai municipality also pitched in, supplying a fire truck, in order to water the school ground.
There are 971 students in the school, out of which 350 are girls. Wai is an orthodox place, and the orthodoxy creeps into the school culture. There is segregation of girls and boys, even in the staffrooms! And an unquestioning respect for the elders. We saw a very interesting Peepal Tree, around which a sitting area was being built. This was from donation of one of the ex students. A Pune architect had made a plan, and a local ex-student was looking after construction. The platforms were terraced out, so that more people could sit under the tree. I would have been happier if it was designed for your students with back support. But then the compromise was between space and comfort. Nagesh believes a lot in symbolism. He asked one of the earlier batches to donate money for a ladder. He believes that when a student climbs the ladder, she will get a better perspective of life. It’s also a symbol of progress. By the way, the ladder cost almost 20000 rupees.
Nagesh has done his BSc from Wai after passing out from the same school. He then went on to do his B.Ed from Satara. And joined by the school as a teacher, , where he worked at the same 20 years, from 1987 to 2007. He then had stints at the HA school and New English school in Pune. Nagesh ji still has three and a half years left for his retirement. Teachers from Science background tend to be more organised, unfortunately not so much for the humanities background teachers. Schools tend to be dominated by the humanities teachers – hence the chaos! But then science teachers have a disadvantage too – they don’t understand culture, they understand logic. As a result emotions and traditions tend to be neglected.
We had a question and answer session over the lovely lunch that Nagesh ji had arranged for us at the school. (Students are given mid day meals at the school.)
Pooja wanted to know how does he manage troublemakers? People who can’t tolerate noise, can’t become good teachers. So in some sense, noise is not trouble. Trouble happens because of teachers, not students. The word discipline’s root word is disciple. So discipline has to start from the teacher. You need a teacher who can develop values, who can ensure punctuality, and who ensures that when he asks students to sit properly, it is to improve posture. The stick is a curative tool; language, in contrast, is a preventive tool. He gave an example of how language and, lies, can be used better than using sticks. He talked of his famous cane, which is used solely as a threat. Historically, he did use it in his early days at Wai, when he was the NCC in-charge.
Komal’s question was: How do we build capacities in teachers? There are three ways.
- Lead by example. Ensure that the principal is doing things herself which she wants teachers to do.
- Give as many as possible opportunities. Learn to appreciate teachers for their effort.
- The principal should intentionally create capacity building programs. Possibly, the essay writing that I get teachers to do at Peepal Tree School, is an example.
In spite of all this capacity building, if some teachers still refuse to change, keep them as examples for other teachers of what not to do in classrooms!
Viraj’s question was: How you keep the ideas coming in, even at this age? Nagesh’s witty answer was – because of his bachelorhood. Also because he spends a lot of time on thinking. He believes time is available to all, but very few find it. It’s like bathing. You have to find the time for it yourself. Nobody else can do it for you. Start with half an hour a day, you’ll find it somewhere. Viraj talked about how his family manages time, by ensuring that the phones get switched off the moment they enter the house in the evening.
Nuggets from the conversation:.
- Teachers should inspire more outside the classroom than inside. The task is to make children think.
- School inspections are for teachers, not students. Yet students don’t understand this command become very serious whenever inspections happen.
- What was amazing but the amount of data that Nagesh collects about his students. You can slice and dice students as per a lot of criteria. One interesting tidbit, 52 students are left handers. I was surprised because normally it’s about 10% of the population that is left handed, so I should have had a hundred. Possibly parents have forced left is to become righties. 208 students from the school, have parents were studied in the same school.
- Relationship building happens because of work. So for that reason clubs play a very important role in relationship building between students and teachers.
- There should be an annual plan for homework. And you should ensure that there is not too much of it and there is not too little. I believe worksheets can do the job better than a book.
- We had to wait for 15 minutes before lunch, while he went around the school. Later on we asked him what he was doing. He said I wanted to personally invite all students for the sports day function tomorrow. He said going and announcing is always much better than issuing notices. Later on the librarian share the same kaizen. Whenever he finds students from a particular class who have not submitted their book assignments, he goes to their class and reminds them that they have to do it.
We visited the school again in Jan 2021. Notes from this visit.
Mayur Vora talked about his experience with education in the 40 years that he has been at Panchgani. He has seen a few villages change drastically. And it’s because of a single village school and its teachers. Yet such schools are more exceptions than rules. Mayur is a trustee at Veer College in Wai. Intake every year is 900 students. And only 160 finish after 3 years. Most of Mapro’s workers are 10th fail. Employment absorption is max for school dropouts. After that it funnels rapidly. Is education doing a disservice to society?
One of the few exceptions in these challenging times is Dravid high school in Wai. The good news from Dravid school is that the student strength has gone up from 960 to 1020, in pandemic times. The school is only from 5th to 12th. What may have helped is the minimalistic annual student fee of Rs. 1020. Dravid school’s monthly salary bill is Rs. 20 lakh. So the monthly fee required, only to cover salary, is Rs. 2,000. Teacher salaries are paid by the state government. Dravid school supplements classroom chalk and talk with informal education. Activities, and more importantly projects, create excitement in classrooms. not only for students, but also for teachers and parents. Making a model of the DNA helix will ensure that students understand and remember a lot more than many hours of biology theory classes.
Sports, Arts and Civic sense are 3 subjects that are consistently under appreciated by most school managements and overemphasised at Dravid. Sports is a good way of getting energy levels up, which impacts academics positively. The Govt of Maharashtra is now threatening to abolish the post of sports teachers in government schools. Nagesh has been associated with NCC for a long time, starting as a cadet – and later on as an NCC in charge teacher. During his 20 years association with schools as a NCC teacher, he has not missed a single parade. He talked about how he uses NCC to develop personalities. One of his cadets was asked to command a parade, but was finding it difficult to get one of the students to fall in line. The threat to report to CO only worked for some time. Then one day this cadet leader experimented differently. He proposed to this student that if he participated, he would present him as a ’namuna’ – an ideal cadet, to his teachers. That clicked. Leadership lesson learnt.
Nagesh talked of the importance of student delight in schools. Unless kids are having fun, learning is not happening. Everytime we visit, we always find students busy on the ground, doing small works of infra improvement. Everytime we visit, we see students discussing projects with teachers. Dravid is definitely a fun place to be in. What I like about Dravid is the way it uses architecture to create learning spaces. Last time Nagesh had shown us a sitting area that he had created under a tree. This was a convex shape – and could be used as small classrooms that could be used in parallel by teachers. His next idea is to develop a concave seating area around another big tree. This one to be used as a single large classroom, with the teacher in the pit, aka ISB classrooms. Age gaps of 1 or 2 years are best for peer learning. By changing the heights of adjacent benches you can nudge these interactions.
Nagesh is retiring in 2.5 years time. He dreams of setting up a 25 students school after his retirement. For 10 years, he will have the same class teacher, who gets promoted every year with her kids. Moving teaching closer to parenting. Or to use a medical analogy, moving from super speciality to general practice. As they say in Africa, it takes a village to grow a child, and the teacher becomes this village. Come to think of it, how many teachers do you really remember from your school days?