How a rural development programme transformed schools, lives in remote Sikkim villages – The Indian Express

The 13-km road from Namchi block to Rong village, located at an altitude of 4,400 ft, is riddled with craters, with certain stretches of it washed away. Despite such hardships, the Rong-Bul Gram Panchayat Unit (GPU) in remote South Sikkim is home to one of the most innovative schooling programmes in the country.
In 2015, then district collector of South Sikkim, Raj Kumar Yadav, began a six-month pilot project called the District Administration’s Adopted Village (DAAV) in Rong-Bul Gram Panchayat Unit (GPU), which has six wards (villages) and a population of 1,351 (as of March 2016).
While DAAV is a rural development programme that broadly focuses on the social and cultural development of village, improvement of the school system is a key aspect of it.
Under the DAAV scheme, six schools and one primary health centre in Rong-Bul were overhauled. Infrastructure was enhanced and residents were trained to undertake maintenance of the establishments. The quality of mid-day meals was improved and smart classes were introduced to attract children to schools. The students were also roped in for the beautification of the school premises and classroom walls doubled up as learning spaces. Besides, career counselling programmes were held and experts from various fields and departments were called in to conduct programmes.
Since the launch of the programme, school teachers say the dropout rate has dropped from 36 per cent in 2014 to zero, with a marked improvement in the daily attendance.
On August 21, Yadav was among 15 district magistrates who were honoured with The Indian Express Excellence in Governance Awards that celebrated the finest work done by DMs across the country.
“Our endeavour began with conducting a gram sabha with all the stakeholders, where we worked on identifying problems. We decided to focus on a number of issues such as education, roads, electricity, 100 per cent Aadhaar enrollment and ensuring that everybody has bank accounts. In the case of schools, our first challenge was to make government schools attractive so that students enjoy attending them. Once that was addressed, we turned to quality of teaching and introduced smart classes and educational cartoons for them. We also promoted extra-curricular activities by promoting many competitive activities between the schools in the area,” Yadav said after receiving the award. Yadav has since been posted to East Sikkim as District Collector.
“My daughter was never regular to school. She was not interested in her studies and preferred watching television at home and helping her mother with household chores. After smart classes were introduced in her school, she is among students who have registered almost 100 per cent attendance,” says farmer Ajit Rai, a resident of Rong village.
Noel Rai, assistant headmaster of Rong Secondary School, one of the six schools that are part of the DAAV programme, says, “Our first task was to make sure that the students attend classes. There were instances of children staying home and spending all their time in front of the TV. The collector sir noticed this and installed smart TVs in schools so that the students could watch educational cartoon shows for an hour after class. We made sure that we didn’t show them the entire episode – that forced students to return to school the next day to watch the rest of it.”
About 30 students are enrolled in the Rong primary school and about 200 in the secondary school. Extra-curricular activities and remedial classes were also introduced.
Apart from the schooling programme, under the DAAV programme, toilets were built in every household, facilities in the only primary health sub-centre in the gram panchayat were improved, reservoirs were created and rain-water harvesting systems were installed.
“Rong-Bul has always been drought-prone. But villagers now no longer complain of water scarcity. We have also opened a district control-room for disaster management. Equipment such as helmets, ropes, blankets, tarpaulin and shovels have been stored in that room to tackle emergency situations,” says Rong-Bul GPU president Raju Gurung.
According to Namchi Block Development Officer Bimal Rai, the district administration ensured that the gram panchayat continued with the development programmes even after the completion of the six-month pilot programme.
Enthused by the success of the DAAV programme in Rong-Bul, in 2016, the South Sikkim district administration started the programme in another gram panchayat, Mamley Kamrang, 8 km from Namchi block. This gram panchayat has five schools and an ITI centre. The measures taken in Rong-Bul were replicated in Mamley Kamrang as well.
“The DAAV scheme has been extremely beneficial for this village. Earlier, we lacked pucca roads to reach the village and we were worried for the safety of our children. Concrete roads were constructed under DAAV and we have been encouraged to utilise the slopes of the village to carry out farming. We now use the land in and around the primary health centre and our village to grow vegetables,” says Rani Gurung, a resident of Mamley Kamrang.
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Santanu ChowdhurySantanu is a Senior Correspondent with The Indian Express, Kolkata and… read more

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