Perseverance + Positivity = Progress
A ceaseless journey to build exemplar student lives
The mornings in the Rajnagar area of Madhubani (Bihar) often exude excitement and buzz. Students from the M.S. Ranti Government School can be frequently seen on their daily ‘Prabhat Pheri’ (morning rounds). They speak to villagers, emphasising the importance of education and ensuring children come to school. Along with them is Mrs. Chandana Dutta.
A senior teacher at the school, Mrs. Chandana is an epitome of leadership, best described as influence without authority. She has been teaching for the past 17 years and is currently working as a high school English teacher. A recognised name in the education fraternity, she was recently bestowed with the National Teachers’ Award 2021 by the Honourable President of India Ram Nath Kovind during Shikshak Parv 2021.
She was chosen from thousands of teachers in the country for her efforts to drive change at student and school level. This is her story of grit and positive attitude to ensure holistic education for all her students, while being a lifelong learner.
Her Father as the inspiration
While growing up, Chandana Ma’am was inspired by her father who was the English Vibhaag Aadhyaksh (Head of Department) in Araria district (in Bihar). He spearheaded the growth of not just the department, but also established the first Saraswati Vidya Mandir and the first women’s college in Forbesganj, Araria. She followed the footsteps of her father and started teaching in the village school. Little did she know, this was the start of a roller coaster journey for her.
All of us have teachers who have made a lasting impact on us. We have realised that their role was not limited to teaching a few subjects or concepts. Similarly, Chandana Ma’am undertook several efforts, beyond the walls of the classrooms, to engage with the parents and community to ensure students have better resources and opportunities to learn.
In the past 17 years, she has faced the challenge of low attendance and parent engagement in school many times. And have organised student Prabhat Pheris. To encourage girl education, she spoke to girl students and their parents, and found that the unhygienic school toilet stopped the girls from coming to school. She worked with the principal and also requested the parent community to ensure that the toilet was cleaned regularly, so that girls could attend school without any worry.
Chandana Ma’am with her students
Another instance that she speaks of fondly is where students in the villages did not have books. Completing the syllabus is a mandate, but the children did not have books to learn from. Why should learning stop, thought Chandana Ma’am and taught as best as she could – through the means of poems, stories, art, etc. She made student groups to encourage peer learning. She encouraged students to save their pocket money to purchase books and uniforms.
She taught them to maintain hygiene – cutting their nails, washing their hands, ensuring that they wear the uniform in school only and keeping it clean. She taught the students about different religions and cultures to build camaraderie and compassion among students of different customs & religions.
Chandana Ma’am with her strong, infectious sense of possibility, believes in always moving forward no matter the circumstances, and sometimes, without any support.
“Challenge hai, support hai ya nahi – kar hi leti hun”
(I overcome challenges, with or without support)
Teaching to Sustain Lives
Last year, as COVID-19 struck, it was hard for student families to cope – physically, emotionally & financially. Chandana Ma’am again went to the approach to solve the problem – sensing the ground reality, analysing it and the solutions and taking appropriate steps to improve the reality. She is a patron of Madhubani painting which she enthusiastically inherited from her mother-in-law who is a globally recognised artist herself. She taught fabric painting to the students and their mothers and got masks stitched out of that fabric which were then sold across the country. It helped generate income for the families in need. It also served as an outlet to have something to do being confined at homes with stress and worry during lockdown. She employed this method remembering how she used to engage students through Madhubani art in the classroom during their free time.
“Vyast rehte hain toh mast rehte hain”
(Being engaged is being happy)
The positive approach towards challenges is what stood out during the conversation with Chandana Ma’am. Not once, there was a hint of complaint or disappointment about the conditions or challenges she was up against. She considers these a part of her job, as is typically for every education leader in not just the country, but across the globe. As we work to empower the education leadership across the country, this was an important reminder for us.