No parent wishes to send their children to private schools paying hefty fees. Develop government schools with better facilities and students will return automatically.
The chirping of house sparrows, verdant surroundings and infectious smiles of students at this Kannada medium lower-primary government school in Nidagundi village, Belagavi district are enough to draw one in immediately.
Six years ago, the school did not look like this. It changed after Veeranna Madiwalar (39), the headmaster, took charge.
Like many government schools, the Nidagundi school, too, was without proper compounds, classrooms, toilets, drinking water and other basic facilities. Incremental changes over these six years have not only won the hearts of the students and teachers but also that of the villagers.
Apart from renovating and bringing the main school building back to life with colourful paintings of animals and cartoon characters, smart classrooms were also integrated. The results were instant. Preethi, a Class 5 student, explained that learning English and Mathematics used to prove difficult for her. “After the teachers started using big screens (smart class) to teach us through videos, poems and demonstrations, we started learning them easily,” she says.
Veeranna has also accommodated an Anganwadi on the campus of the school. With the help of donors, he even constructed a multi-language laboratory which is helping Class 4 and Class 5 students learn English in a simple way through charts, pictorial books and audio-visual resources.
Currently, the school has a strength of 136 students and four teachers.
After witnessing the transformation of the Ambedkar Nagar school, Vishali N Kamble decided to shift her daughter here from a private school. The mother of the Class 2 student said the private school not only charged a high fee but was also too far. “Here, the students get free books and dresses. More than that Veeranna sir has evolved a unique method of teaching lessons through songs and play,” she said.
Jinendra Kemalapure, a former zilla panchayat member, says the school has even motivated other villages in the taluk to demand that the government, teachers and gram panchayat members develop similar government schools in their villages.
Changing the landscape and functioning of the school was no easy task. Initially, his co-workers were non-cooperative, villagers did not trust him and thought of him as an outsider. The paucity of government funds had also left Veeranna with little scope to implement his vision.
His commitment to the students of the school, however, was undeniable.
Even though he did not teach Vidyashri Vaddar, a student who secured 91% in SSLC, he decided to come to her aid after learning that she would not be able to pursue higher education due to financial constraints. “Through his article about me in a Kannada daily, I received Rs 1.8 lakh as aid, with which I completed my Pre-University and Engineering courses,” she says.
Such experiences have vouched for his vision, urging many to pool in money to help.
This is also perhaps the only school in Karnataka to have purchased land to expand the campus in recent times. With funds donated by locals, the school was able to purchase nearly 10 guntas of land adjacent to the school. Veeranna intends to use the land for the construction of math and science labs, in line with the Shivaram Karanth Multi-Language Lab that sits on the school premises.
Prabhavati B Patil, the Raibag Block Education Officer, explains that the entire education department stands with Veeranna when he develops government schools through donors and philanthropists.
Having experienced the profound potential of education to change lives, Veeranna realised the value of a learning environment and good teachers early on in his life.
Born in Koppal district’s Yelburga taluk to Thippanna Madiwalar, a bonded labourer, and Basavamma, a construction worker, Veeranna was the first of three siblings.
His uncle Kotteappa Madiwalar recognised a spark in Veeranna and encouraged him to learn.
At school, his primary teacher P M Kyathannavar inspired Veeranna to explore the poet and artist in him. “My teachers through their lives have taught me how an individual can bring changes in others' lives and I wish to do the same,” he says.
Speaking about the unique philosophy that fuels him, he says, “As a poet, this school is like a living poem. I could not help but write it.”
Apart from educating children, Veeranna also spends his time writing and is an accomplished poet. His first poetry collection — Nelada Karuneya Dhwani — brought him the Kannada Sahitya Academy award (2010) and the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar (2011). He was the first Kannada poet to get the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar.
His thought-provoking lines have invited show-cause notices from the government. A couplet expressing anguish over plans to merge 13,800 government schools in the state had put him in the line of fire last year.
While his poems speak for the voiceless, he says his writing does not say anything that has not already been said by vachanakaras and Bandaya littérateurs. “I only contemporise my literature to today’s society. I do not blame anyone or anything, I only speak for myself,” he says.
“I could not sit silent after hearing the disturbing news that 30% of total schools in the state will be closed. We need to call out such wrong decisions,” he says. “No parent wishes to send their children to private schools paying hefty fees. Develop government schools with better facilities and students will return automatically,” he explains.