Under India’s Right to Education Act of 2009, every child between the age of six and fourteen has the right to access education, free of cost. However, this goal remains elusive, especially in rural, tribal areas where issues like high dropout rates, infrastructural gaps in government schools, and low levels of girls’ education frequently continue to be concerns for administrators.
Several causes can be attributed to these problems. Among them is the low operational efficiency of School Management Committees (SMCs). SMCs are legal custodians of state elementary schools, and oversee the managerial as well as educational activities conducted in their schools. If well managed, these committees have the power to strongly influence their students’ educational journey.
In reality, though, many SMCs don’t function optimally. Members are often not aware about their role and responsibilities and do not participate fully in the schools’ affairs. Thus, they often lack the capacity to influence and negotiate the decision-making process, which ends up affecting the overall educational outcomes for students.
A class apart
One notable exception is the Koturaguda Upper Primary School in Bissam Cuttack block, in Odisha’s Rayagada district. The appointment of a new SMC President a year ago has been the beginning of a turnaround, both for the school and for others in neighbouring gram panchayats.
A driven professional, Mr Karkaria made it his mission to bring about change speedily. Ever since his appointment, he has been working with the Tata Trusts’ Livolink Foundation to realign the SMC and initiate wide-ranging policies aimed at enhancing the education imparted by the school.
An associate organisation of the Tata Trusts, Livolink Foundation works in South Odisha to provide authentic learning opportunities to children between three to fourteen years of age, while focusing on their scholastic, co-scholastic and socio-emotional skills in elementary schools and Anganwadis. To do this, the team engages with community members to take ownership of their schools and Anganwadis, thus enabling a better academic environment for the students.
Turning a new page
An ex-journalist, Mr Karkaria brought a different mindset to his role. Soon after taking over, he initiated a range of changes in the working of the school. For one, he has ensured that the SMC meetings are conducted regularly and that critical issues are discussed in timely fashion.
The new SMC president is also setting an example by balancing his administrative role with academic activities. Mr Karkaria teaches mathematics and English to make up for the learning loss suffered by students during the school shut-downs caused by the pandemic. He often urges parents to participate in the school’s affairs and directly takes up the issue of absenteeism of the students with them.
In a short span of time, Mr Karkaria has undertaken to resolve many of the school’s most pressing issues: the spending of the school composite grant; the issue of electrification; the re-enrolment of out-of-school children, etc. His proactive attitude has breathed life into the ‘school refurbishment plan’ under the Elementary School Transformation Programme, a collaborative endeavour of Mo School, the Odisha government, and the Livolink Foundation. As part of the programme, he has also taken up the task of getting the school’s broken boundary walls repaired.
Mr Karkaria is also leading tasks like procuring library books and generating community contributions for the school. His insistence on reading has inculcated a reading habit among the students – in fact, library classes are now a part of the students’ everyday schedule!
A cascading effect
Mr Karkaria’s efforts have been hailed by many people in the local administration as well as the community. The Koturaguda Gram Panchayat, to which the school belongs, is expected to improve its academic performance thanks to his initiative.
His efforts have become a source of inspiration for SMCs of neighbouring schools. Today, those members advocate for their own issues with renewed vigour and work with the local administration and cluster resource co-ordinators to enhance the quality of their schools.
For Mr Karkaria, the welfare of the students and the village is all that matters. “The school is a symbol of our village’s dignity. We are trying to build a quality school for our children for a better tomorrow,” he says.