“In the last one month, people only wanted to click selfies with me. They rarely showed any interest in my thoughts or ideas," said Ranjitsinh Disale, when asked about his newfound fame as the winner of The Global Teacher Prize 2020 in December.
Disale tested positive for COVID-19 soon after his win and has not been able to teach or even meet his students since then. However, his students remember him not only as their star teacher but also as the only person in their little village of Paritewadi, in Solapur (Maharashtra), who had the foresight to introduce them to online classes, way before COVID-19 pandemic began spreading in India.
In an interview with News18.com, Disale said, “The pandemic was a new and difficult experience for everyone. But, the tribal children, especially girls whom I teach, were prepared for it. They were already trained to use technology for their education."
“Much before Covid-19 confined them to their homes; they have faced problems with attending school regularly. While some of them have household chores, others took up odd jobs to make money and support their families. Often, the pressures of chores led girls to drop out permanently. Therefore, I introduced them to QR coded textbooks, so that they can learn without leaving home regularly, study at their own pace, and are not compelled to give up on their education."
Also Read: Maharashtra’s Ranjitsinh Disale Who Won Global Prize Says Teachers’ Voices Should Be Heard, Respected
QR coded textbooks work through a government built app, which allows students to scan the QR codes on any page of a book and access all the digital materials – tests, additional information, video lectures, stories, assignments – embedded in the codes.
The only thing that has changed during the pandemic is that the blended mode classrooms have shifted online completely, explained the teacher. “Till now, we have not had a single kid dropping out because of the pandemic. Everyone has full attendance for their online sessions," revealed Disale.
The same is not true for many students, especially children from tribal communities across India, who found themselves unable to transition to online classes during this health crisis. They either did not have access to the internet or were compelled to take full-time jobs after their families’ financial struggles were aggravated due to job losses.
The Star Teacher
Disale himself is a product of the pedantic pedagogy of India. As a kid, he was never a topper, just an average student who had an excessive love for extracurricular activities. He cannot recall a single school teacher who has left a lasting impression on him but remembers being scolded for his slew of questions during lessons.
“I have never been one of those who enjoyed cramming for exams. I was an average student, and if you see my board exams mark sheets, you will find that in them too I had received average grades… However, I enjoyed new and creative learnings. I was never interested in tests or exams," He said.
Disale initially wanted to be an engineer, but could not complete his studies because of ragging and bullying, which shattered his faith in the education system. Therefore, when his father suggested that he go for teachers’ training, he was sceptical and reluctant. But, during his B.Ed (Bachelor of Education), two teachers revolutionised his thoughts about teaching and showed how educators have the capacity to influence mindsets, change communities, and shape generations.
These learnings were Disale’s constant companion as he began his teaching journey in a dilapidated school building right next to a cattle shed. The primary reason he turned out to be a great teacher is that he cared not only about the subjects but also the kids who studied them.
Disale’s star teacher status in Paritewadi (and across the world) is a result of years he had spent communicating with parents, changing the mindset of local communities, and pushing for girls’ education, while at the same time facing challenges of limited or no infrastructure and technology in government schools of rural India.
“A teacher’s responsibility is beyond teaching what is written in textbooks. The kids who come to a classroom is representative of their respective families, and each of these family has their own set of values and beliefs. So, any teacher’s classroom is diverse because it represents each and everyone in the society. Therefore, when we educate children, we also educate the society," he said.
Customised Teaching and Implementation of Policy Reforms
Things have changed considerably since Disale was a student, and he is happy to see the new education reforms recently implemented.
“The term and yearend exams have their significance. But I feel there are other evaluation tools on which we should focus too. There are observation sheets, remarks and activities, peer evaluation, skill development remarks etcetera which can serve as complementary methods of assessment. However, all we do is focus on marks. There are many innovative reforms suggested in the new education policy. If those are implemented successfully, I believe kids won’t be afraid of exams anymore, “said Disale.
The teacher pointed out that each child is different. Therefore, there is a need to make the education system more ‘student-centric’ and personalise it according to individual needs.
“Each child has a different learning style, so why can’t we make four or five different question papers for the same chapter?" asked Disale. “The reason it is not done is because it would be inconvenient for the educators. However, the education system is not meant for teachers’ convenience, but the students," he explained.
Lessons from the Pandemic
Disale said that the ongoing pandemic has many lessons not only for educators but also for policymakers. “The education system should be prepared for the next pandemic, and that can only happen when the teachers are better trained in teaching online. Their empowerment will pave the way for the students to be ready. Therefore, their training should be considered as a priority. Whatever facilities and infrastructure are needed to equip them, the government should make them available in the schools."
Apart from teachers, the education system needs to be more student-friendly, and children have to be provided with necessary technology required for learning. “Irrespective of how rural the area where a child lives if he or she is growing up now, he or she is a 21st-century kid. Still, many of them do not have access to basic infrastructure and technology. During the lockdown, students should have been provided with free-of-cost internet. There could have been internet schemes that allowed students from grade one to twelve to get free sim cards."
“Instead, what we did was to reduce syllabus, and struggled to shift them online, without providing them with basic internet, which is very difficult for low-income families to afford, especially when they are struggling with financial issues," added Disale.
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