Mental Health Awareness in Schools

I was in a rural area this week and happened to visit a couple of schools run by an NGO. Let me first tell you about the mission of this organization. It is to raise awareness among parents in rural areas about the quality of education.

* The organization serves more as a catalyst and the villagers themselves form a committee which supervises the running of the school. The organization takes on hiring teachers/training them, etc while the committee decides on budgeting, admission criteria (these schools serve families in the lowest strata-economic and social) and such.

* The professionals work to create a scope and sequence of skills in the subjects and the classes are multi age groups. The kids help their parents on the farm during harvest time and stroll in-even 5 yr old kids walk 4-5 km to come to school. They bring their own lunch but they come! After the initial couple of years the families (who are poor) joined forces and donated land for the school -with ample play ground space.

* The kids come in the morning and join the teachers in play or in cleaning up the school grounds. Then comes the assembly- where they sing, enact plays and interestingly enough-change the school timings-because the weather is so severe over a period of time, the hours of the school changes during those months.

* The kids and teachers vote on what is best and majority wins. Kids don't have to ask for permission to get up and go to the bathroom or to drink water. They come right back...They understand that it is shared control rather than authority handing down rules.

* As the neighbouring villages realized the quality of education in the first school, they grouped together and asked for a similar school near their villages...even the nay sayers agreed eventually.

* I liked how the teachers taught and how the kids took to learning. It was a distraction to have us in their rooms (one little girl let us know at assembly-Ay Madam, meri class ajao), and the teacher redirected them to their task. "It is exciting to have people but if we forget our job, it affects only us. So let's see if we can calm ourselves soon so we use our time well." Who says it is difficult managing a large classroom?

* The kids were very well behaved but I think it was because they were free from the pressure of the academics and some of the rigidity in typical schools-they were assessed but no painful exams. The fidgety children have plenty of room to move/jump/rock and then settle down to work.

* Some children were in tattered clothes but not one expected a handout-they just wanted to read and show us what they knew. Mental health is not just about what is lacking-it is also about what is abundant. There was confidence, pride and ownership and the kids were very happy to share those with us.