As schools remain shut since March in the wake of COVID-19 and tribal students of Salegarh village of Inthkhedi panchayat in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh struggle to study online, an assistant teacher of the primary school of the village emerged as a ray of hope for them.
Neeraj Saxena, 43, an assistant school teacher in Salegarh Primary School for more than a decade travels nearly 45 km every day to reach the hamlet from Raisen city and teaches more than 100 tribal students at five different tutor centres of the village with the help of undergraduate students of the village from 10 am to 1 pm.
“If I failed to manage the classes on a field, years of my efforts of bringing students, especially girls, to schools would be in vain,” said Saxena adding that I ask the students to wear masks and maintain social distancing to avoid COVID-19 transmission.
It takes nearly 45 to 50 minutes for Saxena to reach the village as there is no road and one needs to cross by foot a patch of 5 km of uneven trail through a dense teak forest to get there.
Students Impacted Due to the Lockdown
After Unlock 1, Madhya Pradesh government launched online classes for school students on 4 July and asked the officials to hold online classes through smartphone, TV and radio.
However, the scheme failed to take off in Salegarh because it lies in the middle of the jungle and residents hardly have TV, smartphones, electricity and internet connections.
After conducting the survey on the availability of TV, smartphone and radio among the parents of school students, he asked his students – some of whom cleared Class 12 while others are pursuing undergraduate studies in college but are currently at home due to the lockdown, to teach the other tribal school students in the lawns.
So, they will suffer due to the unavailability of mobile and TV and he will provide the books and study materials.
“Parents of just two students have smartphones, while those of 10-12 have keypad ones. There has been no electricity for five-six days in the village and internet connectivity is poor. The villagers hardly have any radio,” remarks Saxena.
In a bid to bridge the digital divide and continue learning of the 92 registered students from the Bhil and Gond tribes ,and six from the other backward classes, conventional teaching in a physical form was the only option left.
Hence, with the help of other students, Kiran Bhallavi, Neetu Dhurve and a guest teacher, Amitabh Rathore, Saxena has opened five tuition centres in the first week of July in the village and began teaching the tribal students every day from 10 am to 1 pm.
In return, Saxena pays Rs 1,000 to every students-turned-mentors who are supporting him to teach the school kids from his Rs 31,500 monthly salary.
In 2009, when Saxena was posted at the school, he wanted to quit immediately.
“But I held on for five years and saw change. I took examples of bright students to other parents to convinced them to send their kids to school,” said Saxena.
In 2009, there were just eight girls among 30 students. Today, there are 39 among the registered 82 students.
On seeing his selfless efforts to teach the tribal students of the village for more than a decade, the Union Steel Ministry has recently made him brand ambassador of change.
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