Ms. Nirmala Kamble is – as most headmasters are – usually found in her office with the usual tasks for the day accumulating on her desk. She emits a different aura than the usual “strict headmaster”. Instead, she is approachable, easy to hold a conversation with, and has a camaraderie with her administration, all the while maintaining her authority.
She has been headmaster of Baburao Sanas School for Girls in Mangalwar Peth, Pune since the 2015-16 academic year, and in her time she has inherited the challenges that face many Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) schools today.
It is her friendly disposition and her attention to individual student needs that is helping her handle issues that affect students’ education. The students that enroll in Baburao Sanas are from the surrounding underprivileged areas, where there are higher rates of drug and alcohol use, the effects of which they bring into the classroom. Ms. Kamble addresses this challenge with kindness and attention. She supports providing strong counselling services, holding parent meetings to keep them updated about their child’s academic progress, and encouraging teachers to give individual attention to each student.
However, the halls are not as full as they’re supposed to be, and when the bell rings, there aren’t many students that spill out of classrooms. Ms. Kamble is also faced with the challenge of decreasing enrollment rates as private schools gain popularity in the area and already-established schools turn into English mediums. The PMC schools are all Marathi medium, and the effort to convert a few of them into English mediums has only recently begun. Baburao Sanas has also been, since its inception in 1971, an all-girls school, and so it sees fewer students than most other PMC schools. And so, Ms. Kamble plans to make it co-ed, in an attempt to increase enrollment rates.
“We have 225 students and 7 teachers here. The numbers are decreasing, and keeping the school from closing is my biggest challenge and my goal,” she says. This is the unfortunate reality of many government schools that are being overshadowed by private institutions.
And yet, the administration and staff of Baburao Sanas is deeply connected and devoted to ensuring that school doors remain open.
“Baburao Sanas was the first PMC school to have a 100% result, in the 2002-3 academic year,” says Ms. Asha Yamgar, school coordinator, and she shows a plaque hanging with the 12th board exam result history on the wall in front of the headmaster’s office. She also discusses teacher involvement in surrounding communities, and says that the teachers conduct home visits to understand the students’ situations outside the classroom and urge parents to pay more attention to their education. Teachers especially look for bright students with a financial situation that will not allow them to pay for further education. For these students, the school tries to find sponsors.
Ms. Kamble has her own connect with Baburao Sanas and her involvement with PMC schools goes back to her childhood. She went to Netaji Subashchandra Bose Madhyamik in Yerwada, and then became a teacher. She has worked for 32 years in the education field, 13 of which were spent teaching maths and science courses at Baburao Sanas.
“It’s important that the students know that being at a PMC school does not mean that they can’t be something,” she says, and she is an example of this. The quality of education at these schools is perceived as low and, as a result, career options are believed to be limited.
Ms. Kamble is working on changing this reputation and her main strategy is to strengthen the quality of education at Baburao Sanas by increasing the availability of school amenities that can help it compete with surrounding schools. She has especially pushed digitization and now, the school has four digital classrooms, two of which are computer labs.
With pamphlets and boards listing these features and the various extracurricular activities that the school offers, Ms. Kamble and her staff reached out to the community in an attempt to increase enrollment rates. They visited various primary schools to speak to students and parents about the benefits of attending Baburao Sanas.
Ms. Kamble is really hopeful that one of these features will increase enrollment. Since the integration of the multiskill and retail courses in the school, students have been enthusiastic about participating, and Ms. Kamble and Ms. Yamgar believe that this program will be of immense benefit to students from slum communities. The courses have been effective in not only in teaching rudimentary technical skills, but also in giving the students an ability to problem solve. The students were involved in fixing certain plumbing and electrical issues that the school had, and have been using the learnt skills at home as well.
“The multiskill class may be a reason for a slight increase in enrollment in the last year, and we are one of the three schools in Pune that offer level 3 and 4 as well,” says Ms. Kamble. She hopes that once the first batch of level 4 graduates is employed in this field, they will spread the word about multiskill to other children in the community, and they will be motivated to enroll.
Ms. Kamble’s ultimate goal as headmaster is to increase the number of divisions in each class. She hopes that the school’s efforts to stay relevant, especially with digitization and the multiskill and retail courses, will make an impact not only on the quality of education that the students are receiving, but on securing the school’s future as well.