Jamshedpur, June 10: For a people who have clung to next-door Bengal for healthcare for years, setting up a self-run school — English medium, no less — may well be just another way out of elusive state welfare measures.
The 700-odd population of 19 villages that make up Gopalpur panchayat, 80km from Jamshedpur in East Singhbhum’s rebel-hit Baharagora block, have made up its mind to do just that.
The primary schools, at least one each in every village, have one teacher on an average for 55 to 60 children.
With teacher shortage being a major handicap for students, villagers under the leadership of Gopalpur panchayat mukhiya Laxmiram Murmu are determined to take up shramdaan to set up a private school.
Murmu, who was in the steel city, told The Telegraph, “We already have land. A resident of Nekragunji village called Bimal Sen has donated about 8,000 sqft, which falls along the border between Gopalpur and Kherua panchayats.”
The villagers are now looking for an organisation, preferably a city-based private school chain, to collaborate with them and provide guidance on running an institute. They are even willing to free up more land, if needed, for the school.
“Government schools don’t have teachers. Moreover, people want their children to learn English. So, we have to come up with the idea of a private school by partnering with an organisation,” Murmu added.
For now, the plans are modest.
The panchayat has decided to initially build the school with the help of bamboo and asbestos roof. Villagers are willing to offer voluntary labour. With more donations from residents, the cradle could be expanded later, Murmu said, adding the panchayat would rope in graduates and postgraduates who were already working as para-teachers in the primary schools.
Around 3,000 or close to a half of the population of Gopalpur are children. The panchayat has a solitary high school while Baharagora College, the nearest college, is about 15km away from Gopalpur. Many schoolchildren, especially girls, tend to discontinue studies after matriculation.
The villagers of Gopalpur rely on the community health centre of Topsia in neighbouring West Midnapore district of Bengal, as the block hospital in Baharagora is miles farther.
“Education for children is our main target now. Each and every parent in the village wants to educate his or her child, but they are aware that government schools are often run by a single person and the quality of education is dipping. We are keen to start the school as soon as possible,” said Murmu.
The mukhiya has also recently helped women of Nekragunji to form its first self-help group (SHG) to weave tussar silk for Jharcraft, the state handloom and handicraft corporation.
The SHG here has a membership of 25-odd homemakers.
The women will be trained in tussar spinning and reeling to help them pocket a monthly income of about Rs 2,000. The village is also planning to implement lift irrigation schemes of the Micro Economic Social Organisation under Integrated Tribal Development Programme for farmers.
East Singhbhum district planning officer Ajay Kumar spelt out an everyday reality in villages.
“If you wait for welfare schemes, it takes time. But if you become self-dependent and take up cudgels to give shape to your dreams, things turn easier. What Gopalpur panchayat is doing is really commendable and they are not seeking any help either. This will set an example for others.”