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From ‘Fancy Sarkari Project’ to Quality Makeover: How a Woman Delivered ‘Happiness’ in Govt Schools

Maitreyi Jichkar, Chief Happiness Officer with a social impact project, has found happiness in giving government school buildings quality makeovers.

Maitreyi Jichkar, Chief Happiness Officer with a social impact project, has found happiness in giving government school buildings quality makeovers.

Daughter of late Congress politician Dr Shrikant Jichkar, Maitreyi oversees ‘The Happy School Project’ that attempts to change the way people visualise government schools.

Eram Agha

New Delhi: While philosophers continue to mull over the million dollar question about what happiness is and where one can find it, Maitreyi Jichkar, Chief Happiness Officer with a social impact project, has found happiness in giving government school buildings quality makeovers.

Her job with the social impact organisation Zero Gravity is not an easy one. It requires a lot of convincing of school officials and other involved that “the government schools can be fancy!”

Daughter of late Congress politician Dr Shrikant Jichkar who was best known as the ‘most qualified person of India’, Maitreyi oversees ‘The Happy School Project’ that attempts to change the way people visualise government schools — neglected, dull and dismal. The non-profit organisation operates under the umbrella of Dr Shrikant Jichkar Foundation.

During her pre-project research, she countered the realities that reeked of biases and neglect. She saw how schools’ toilets were selectively made available to students and how many schools were even without proper toilets. “It was heartbreaking to see toilets with locks hanging on the doors and being selectively used by the teachers,” she said.

The project is aimed at redesigning the schooling experience for children from low-income backgrounds and has already started off in schools of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The idea is based on holistic school makeovers using the concept of ‘Building as Learning Aid’.

“The ‘Building as Learning Aid’ leads to increased educational value of the school building and enhances the visual learning among children. This, in turn, results in better learning outcomes,” she said, adding, “We believe every child deserves a decent learning and living space. It really is about giving them the right kind of learning environment that is dignified enough. So we decided to start fixing the infrastructure,” she said.

Her objective is to transform all government schools into beautiful and inviting learning spaces with more educational and infrastructural value. “Our in-house architects study every school building and then design the space. They study the curriculums of these children and come up with art ideas that can be implemented. The concepts from their textbooks are richly used,” she said.

But it was not easy to work on the idea because it didn’t appeal to the government school management initially, Maitreyi recalled. The administrations were unable to associate fancy with a ‘sarkari’ school building. “Almost six years ago, most of the government schools discarded the idea of makeovers presented by us as they were seen to be too fanciful,” she said.

Convincing the school leaders — the principal and teachers to enable a good makeover — “was a task to begin with”, Maitreyi told News18. “Even though the funding of these projects was never the school’s prerogative, they were still not convinced about the makeover being offered to the schools run by the government. The heads of these schools thought of my ideas as being very fancy for a government school.”

But as she revamped a couple of schools, the word started to spread within the circles of school teachers’ community, “and we became stronger,” she said.

From convincing the teachers on this idea, her team graduated to being flooded with calls to conduct makeovers of the neglected government school buildings. The initiative made it to the Top 100 Education Innovation in the world by HundrED.org in 2020.

Maitreyi measures the impact of ‘Building as Learning Aid’ with a jump recorded in the attendance of students and their performance in school. “We have seen the attendance of students go up and the strength of the students in schools increase from 50 students per school to 200 within a year,” she said.

“With the new look in place the teaching-learning process started taking place outside the classrooms. The attractive buildings enthused the parents about their children’s schools,” she added.

The point she wants to make is “how physical spaces make an impact on the mental status of children.”

The popularity of her works is now getting her projects of bigger magnitude. As a CHO, Maitreyi began her journey with convincing the school managements to allow the makeovers, but now it's gone to the point of signing MoUs with the state governments, and undertaking macro-level projects in villages and small towns.

Teachers participate in the research of designing. “We often interact with the teachers and try to understand the kind of teaching aids they need in the designs. We cover the topics they teach in our designs.” How floors can be used as writing surfaces and how board games can be replicated on floors for teaching mathematics came to fruition with teachers' help. They are the agents of delivery and help the team evolve concepts.

The chief happiness officer is trying to ensure happiness is delivered even during the pandemic. “Covid-19 has completely changed the approach towards all our work. These times have helped the NGOs set examples of how they can deliver substantial relief work on ground during a crisis. Like every other organisation, we also shifted our focus from our regular project towards Covid Relief Programs for the most vulnerable.”

As of now the government school makeover projects are on hold but the idea of a fancy government school building is now being spread through online portals.


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