GLPS Varavoor school teaches kids with animals and credit goes to Prasad sir
Thrissur: When you enter the Varavoor government lower primary school, Thrissur, you will hear the mooing of cows and bleating of goats amidst the chatter of the kids. The school has got a pond, birds, a biodiversity park and much more. The students are active participants in the farming activities organised by the school.
The mastermind behind the programmes, headteacher M B Prasad, is honoured once again. This time it is by the Union education ministry. Prasad is one of the 44 teachers who have won the National Award for Teachers this year. He and his school have been acknowledged several times before. SCERT and DIET recognised the Varavoor GLPS as the best school in the Thrissur district. It secured the Mathrubhumi Seed award at the district level for four consecutive years. Prasad also won the best teacher award of the Kerala government in 2018.
The Varaavoor school was in a poor condition for a long time, recalls Varavoor grama panchayat member Sethumadhavan. "All kids here went to private schools. English medium schools and their buses were fancy back then. Things changed when Prasad Mash took charge of Varavoor LP," said the 58-year-old man who always runs to the school if there is a need.
Prasad joined the school as the head teacher in 2017 that had only 385 students at that time. It got doubled in two years. Currently, the school has 900 plus students.
Private schools in the nearby locations cannot sustain anymore, Sethumadhavan feels. "They will be closing down soon."
This school not only teaches the theory of farming but practicals too.
"My kids know how to grow rice paddy. We teach farming through practicals," Prasad tells mathrubhumi.com. Fields in the nearby places were taken on lease by the school. "The seeds were sown by the students with the help of teachers, parents and the general public. From transplanting to harvesting, the children were trained in the old and modern methods," Prasad says.
Farmers in the village started to re-cultivate after witnessing their children and grandchildren working in the fields, claims Prasad.
"Every year, we find unused farmlands in our locality for our farming. The owners will continue the works in the next year. If students can do it, why can't they," asks Sunil, the president of the Parents and Teachers Association of the school. They are cultivating one acre of land this year.
They grow vegetables on the school compound and use them to prepare meals for the students. The auto drivers in the locality are part-time farmers of the school. So are the parents and grandparents of the students. Children are also taught farming techniques like wick watering systems and aquaponics. They are also encouraged to farm at their homes. Apart from these, they grow vegetables on the roadsides as well.
When asked what is the need for such activities, Prasad pointed out the syllabus. "Primary school students have units which talk about animals, birds, and the environment. So we created a zoo for them to understand, experience and learn to take care of it so that they can learn about the importance of co-existence," Prasad says.
Hens, guinea fowls, ducks, turkey hens, guinea pigs, lovebirds, doves, cows, goats, rabbits, gooses are some of the pets in the zoo. Students are given a chance to take care of it.
Students are taught martial arts, chenda, yoga, guitar and even kathakali. The extracurricular activities are mostly started as per the request of the parents. 'When a group of parents say they want to teach chenda to their kids, we arrange it. We tell the teachers that we cannot charge a huge amount from the kids. They cooperate and teach for a smaller amount compared to what they charge normally,' Sunil says.
Students also participate in soapmaking, doll making, carpentry work, cloth bag making etc.
Parents, teachers and natives support all initiatives of the school, Prasad says. It is an outstanding example of how people of a locality can help to grow a school. "If you visit the school, you will not feel like an alien. This is yours too. Why have any inhibition," asks Sunil.
"Prasad Mash is very cooperative. He brings everyone together," Sethumadhavan says. The natives come to help with the works at school. "We do everything on our own. Very few times we had to hire workers from outside," Sethumadhavan says.
The school has a biodiversity park that has won awards multiple times. A garden, fish pond, medicinal plants, are part of the park.
Parents' associations, the PTA, is strong in schools in Kerala. They help to run the schools. But Varavoor GLPS also has a grandparents association which is rare.
"The textbook has a chapter about grandparents. So we discussed what activity can be done in this regard. Then came the suggestion that we can have a day for them in the school," says Sunil.
Grandparents are encouraged to visit the school and spend time with the kids. 'Children listen to and play with grandparents in the evenings. This has proven highly useful. They even study better when they are with their grandparents,' Sunil says.
They also help in the daily activities of the school like feeding the animals and birds and serving meals for the children. The elders, who otherwise spend time at houses doing nothing, gets engaged the whole day. 'They are happier than the kids,' says Sunil.
During the lockdown, cows and goats were transferred to nearby houses. Others still remain in the school. Prasad and others make regular visits. The school holds online classes through Google Meet. Books from the library are delivered to the house of the students on the school bus. Mobile phones and laptops were distributed to the needy.
Teachers visited the houses of the students to harvest the vegetables they grew. Online classes of extracurricular activities are also going on.
However, the lack of teachers is a concern for the school. The school has only 9 teachers against 20 vacancies. The remaining posts are filled by guest teachers. However, since physical classes are not happening, they are not paid by the state. Permanent staff and PTA provide them with a meagre remuneration.
The school has 25 clubs like English Club, Science Club, Seed Club and Hygiene Club. The school was declared as Plastic Free in 2018 by the then Thrissur SP Yatheesh Chandra IPS. Kids use paper pens, cloth bags and steel water bottles in the school.
The school also has a mini windmill, a solar clock and a solar radio.
To develop empathy towards society, the school organised visits to houses of bed-ridden people and helped the sick.
Funding for most of the projects comes from the pocket of Prasad. 'I have even spent money I loaned for my house which still remains incomplete. Some awards helped to an extent,' he says.
PTA members and other people who are associated with the school also spend money from their own pocket.
A former teacher built a swimming pool in the school. It cost around Rs. 4 lakh. Engineers from the State Sports Council completed the construction by March 2020. However, it is now used as an aquaculture pond due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
"I prepared a Rs. 3-crore project for a new building. Though the initial plan was to find donations, the state government allotted the money through the Public Education Rejuvenation Mission. The building will be inaugurated on September 14," Prasad says.
Prasad is not satisfied yet. He is working on new projects for the remaining months of the last year in his service. He will retire this academic year. Sunil and Sethumadhavan share the anxiety of his retirement. "We are building a new team of parents to take the activities to the next level. But we also need to get a suitable teacher," says Sunil.
Sethumadhavan is a bit more determined. "Whoever comes next, we will make sure these activities are continued and more awards are received," Sethumadhavan says.