When Dattatray Ware, a national award-winning teacher, was transferred to the government school at Jalindernagar, it had only 13 students on its rolls.
Months later, the number has crossed 80, thanks to the transformation he has brought about at this “ZP school” located in a remote area of Pune district.
It now has a well-equipped laboratory, a library, laptops and even Virtual Reality (VR) goggles among other educational aids.
Ware, a Zilla Parishad (ZP) teacher, rose to fame after he took charge of a school at Wablewadi in Shirur tehsil of Pune district in 2012.
He got the infrastructure upgraded and introduced novel teaching methods. The school began to offer even lessons in robotics and foreign languages.
In 2016, Ware won a national award for exemplary teacher, but five years later he faced allegations of financial misdemeanours and misuse of position and was suspended.
The suspension was revoked in February this year, but he was transferred to Jalindernagar, a hamlet in Khed tehsil.
The primary school there was in dilapidated condition. There were only 13 children and one teacher, he said.
The school did not even have a proper approach road.
“I was shocked and disheartened by the way I had been suspended. But when I joined this school, I decided to turn it around,” he said.
Ware consulted headmaster Sandip Mhasudge about his plans. Until Ware joined, Mhasudge was the sole teacher.
“We then spoke to the locals and sought their participation in the revamp of the school. They knew about our work at the Wablewadi school, so they showed enthusiasm. We then decided to work on sprucing up the school with infrastructural changes and at the same time, started working on bringing about a qualitative change in students,” Ware said.
The roof which was leaking was replaced with attractive polythene sheets. Drab Shahabadi tiles of the floor were replaced by marble tiles and the construction of compound wall also started with the help of government funds.
They set themselves the target of finishing the physical revamp in 100 days and utilized the summer holidays.
“During this period, the parents of all 13 students were persuaded to send them to school daily. We worked on their academic preparation, started using laptops, introduced VR goggles and the Scratch software to teach them animation,” he said.
They also introduced basic French and Japanese language lessons to inculcate interest in foreign languages among students.
Soon, word spread about the Jalindernagar ZP school.
“By the time we opened the school for the new academic year in June, more than 150 students were seeking admission,” Ware said.
They had to reject the applications of half of them as the schools where they were already enrolled would have been closed down due to exodus, he said.
“I had been disheartened after the episode that had led to my suspension in 2021. People in the area began to say `If you did good, you will meet Ware’s Guruji’s fate,’” he said.
Teachers of primary schools are traditionally addressed as `Guruji’ in Maharashtra.
But block education officer Jeevan Kokane encouraged him in his new innings at Jalindernagar, Ware said.
Mhasudge, his colleague, said the school was on the verge of shutting down in 2018 for want of students.
“When I came here, there were only three students. I increased the number to 13 by appealing to brick kiln workers to send their kids to the school,” he said.
“We were happy when Ware Guruji was transferred here. The school is benefitting immensely from his experience,” he said.
Kokane also praised the efforts of Ware and Mhasugde.
“I visited the school and saw the change. The enrollment which was 13 in January has now increased to around 100. Ware Guruji with the help of some NGOs and social organizations brought things like VR goggles, laptops and television sets and tried to change the face of the school. We have now sent a proposal to start Class 5 there,” he said.
Amit Gawade, a member of the school coordination committee, said people’s attitude towards the ZP school has changed.
“Now, people are ready to extend help to develop the school further. Students have improved… At the Independence Day program, students delivered speeches impromptu without taking any help,” he added.
Bhanudas Zodage, a villager whose daughter studies in Class 1, said students now want to go to school even when it’s a holiday.