Children’s Day celebration at Banglani Free Primary School, Swarupnagar by Priyanka Ghosh

November 14, 2014

The field visit to Swarupnagar can be divided into two distinct episodes separated by time, place and action yet strangely intertwined by their themes. The first incident, quite unexpectedly, took place while travelling in Bongaon local from Bidhannagar Station to Machlandapur. The ladies compartment on the 8.25 am local was full of school teachers travelling to remote schools. There was no choice but eavesdrop at the conversation which revolved around their jobs and families. All of them were “daily passengers” who had to travel around 2 hours from urban locations to reach their respective workplaces. Besides uncomfortable local trains, they had to hitch rides on trekkers, shared cars to reach their schools in far-flung locations. They had to complete the household chores before boarding the train and it was strange to find them continuously monitoring their household helps and children via mobile phones one after another. It could be easily understood that the tortuous journey and household responsibilities took a considerable toll on their teaching. The reference of daily household drudge kept popping now and then in their conversation. There were also talks about unfair comparison with the male teachers who could spend more time in school because they had nothing much to do at home. But some of them were actually discussing what they were teaching in class. A senior Bengali teacher was seen copiously explaining a piece of poetry to her junior colleague. On this particular day the teachers were unusually decked up and it was soon revealed that they had readied themselves for Childrens’ Day celebration at school. All the teachers discussed how they had collected funds to arrange refreshments for the children for this special day. They seemed quite excited about the show that the children planned for them. They talked about the children with natural affection and seemed to enjoy teaching. The two principal impediments that (that made themselves prominent from their conversation) prevented them from giving their best were distance of the school and lack of household support system.

After alighting at Machlandapur station it took about 40 minutes by car to reach Banglani F.P School at Swarupnagar. Though about 10-12 stations away from Kolkata Machlandapur seemed a comfortable township. There was heavy traffic congestion on road particularly in front of the movie theatre. Children, especially girls, were seen travelling in groups to school. Most of the young women seen in the station had smartphones and talked animatedly about facebook and whatsapp. As the car glided away from the township towards Swarupnagar, paddy fields replaced the building. A number of brick kilns were also visible. We were informed that many small farmers were selling off their land to brick kiln owners because they did not earn enough from their yearly yields. But primary schools, madrasahs, secondary schools were seen in regular intervals. The houses lining the comfortable metalled road were pucca and not one kaccha road was visible. The Banglani F.P School was bang on the road. The building was spread across a broad expanse and did not match our usual idea of primary school. There was an extensive playground in front and the local sub centre attached to the school precinct. Child representatives from neighbouring schools were present to celebrate the occasion. There were roughly 60-70 children were assembled in a decorated auditorium in the first floor. It is important to note that all the walls of the school is painted with learning aids like alphabets, numbers, seasons, bits of geography and history in an interesting way, a lot could be internalized by just watching these murals. There were a number of toilets with excellent running water facilities. But the toilets cried out for a good clean. There was a hand pump and also first rate wash basins for hand washing. The kitchen was reasonably sized. The medium of cooking was wood hence it took a long time to cook. The self help group members were Muslim women from the neighbourhood who chatted with us merrily. They were eager to acquaint themselves with people from Kolkata. The classrooms were large with murals on walls. A number of TLMs were also seen organized on shelves.

The programme began with flower offerings to Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. Teachers, local litterateurs, community representatives were present to pay their homage. The principal focus of the programme was rewarding and acknowledging the literary and artistic efforts of the children who wrote in their respective school magazines and circle newsletter. The children received a certificate, flower and miniature photograph of Tagore. The activity was unique in its own way since a lot importance was attached to the children’s writing and artwork. The children were visibly elated. They asked their teachers to photograph them with the awards which were happily complied with. But the awarding ceremony was further extended to the adults present which was obviously tedious for the children. The programme also included a string of fairly long speeches by adults punctuated with children’s performance. Had the programme been a little more child centric, the children would have been less restless and bored.

It was clear from the children’s performance that the teachers had taken great pains in teaching them the dance and singing. It was a delight seeing the teachers sing and play drums to accompany their performance. The strong rapport and trust the children shared with their teachers was indeed a pleasant sight. Every time a child received an award she would come running to “Sir” to display it even when her mother was present. The teachers made it a point to click photographs of the children while performing. When a particularly naughty child was busy playing pranks, he was hauled up by a teacher who placed him on his own lap indulgently to prevent him from running around. It was not difficult to decipher the teacher-children bond putting these pieces together. A number of mothers present were also felicitated by their children and the teachers which was not something we come across in schools.

The mid-day meal was a little late. The children were busy playing. Some were gearing up for the writing workshop that was about to follow. Some of the teachers were busy supervising the mid-day meal; the others were ready with some last minute advice for the writing workshop participants. As we waved goodbye a number of smiling faces looked up and waved back. From a far the school appeared like a buzzing hive oozing with the honey of trust, friendship and knowledge.