Parth Shah, BPS Architects and Atul Pandya, CEE
The CEE Rural Programmes group has been exploring participative sustainable natural resource management and livelihoods with villages in Gujarat for over two decades. The team mainly worked with the adult and youth community, but long felt the need to do something about the poor state of affairs with primary schools. Especially in areas and districts that are economically weak, schools are left to fend for themselves. Typically, the schools score very low on attendance, retention of children, the pass out rate, status of infrastructure, condition of play and green area etc. This affects the overall development of children in all spheres of life including their future livelihood options.
When UNICEF approached CEE with the proposal to develop the clean, green school concept, the RPG team brought in this larger development context and the community linkages. CEE facilitated discussions with UNICEF, BPS Architects and the Gujarat State Education Department about how to rebuild schools where the quality of education and physical infrastructure complement each other.
Collective thinking yielded the following as some key aspects to be explored through a project with 10 schools each in Dang, Valsad and Baroda districts:
a) How might the physical and built space act as an aid to provide an enabling environment to children in their learning?
The underlying idea is that infrastructure should not be looked upon only as physical facilities. Certainly the quality and upkeep of school infrastructure have a significant impact on enrolment, attendance and retention of children in school.
However, it is also well known that children learn from their environment. The physical conditions of the schools were such that no good practices of caring for the immediate environment or keeping surroundings clean were being demonstrated in the schools. But could this be reversed, so that the infrastructure and physical environment of the school and its maintenance would provide the opportunity for developing positive attitudes towards cleanliness, care of the environment, participation and group work etc.
b) Clean, usable toilets for boys and girls, safe drinking water facilities, hygienic environment for mid day meals, learning corner for children, overall aesthetic look for children are non-negotiable elements of school infrastructure. The design and development of these facilities should be locale-specific, as also the maintenance arrangements. While there is some standardization of designs, the physical implementation of the designs has to be done in a manner that takes the local situation into account.
Having developed this concept, the team now put its mind to how the concept would be implemented. After all, the team was an external actor. Would the school and village communities and the government institutions and officials also be excited about this approach to rebuilding the school habitat and learning? Could this become a shared vision?
A lot of time was spent on participatory visioning exercises, developing and evolving the idea with the teachers, students, and parents regarding their view of how their school should be and also discussing the key concepts of the Anandshala project.
Detailed consultations with the client to understand how the physical space is used and how it could be re-designed for enhancing comfort or wellbeing are an integral part of an architect’s approach to his craft. Understanding the psychology of the children and the school-teachers and providing spaces for their aspiration was an important aspect for developing the designs of the physical infrastructure. For this, architects Brinda and Parth Shah developed a tool-kit with prototypes which served not to push preconceived functional structures, but as a guide help the school community visualize the making of their own place.
The main elements were
- Sanitation Unit: Repair existing facility or new construction
- Drinking water: Roof water harvesting unit and water storage
- Common meeting place: Paved area / stage / roof water harvesting unit
- Fencing: Wire fencing, bamboo fencing, low wall fencing, repairs of existing compound wall or fence
- Paved Areas: Around classrooms and pathways
- Greening Activities: Nursery, herbal garden, vegetable garden, plantation around the fence, garden etc.
Using the Physical Environment as a Teaching Aid
Innovations were tried out with individual schools depending on the kind of infrastructure that was available. At places classes were conducted in the open, amphitheatres were designed to help in face-to-face interactions, demonstrations and presentations. At other places ceramic-tile waste (a big problem in Saurashtra) were used to design the pathways creatively, such as making mosaics depicting the numerals from 1 to 10 and shapes like triangle, square and circles.
Discussions on Operation and Maintenance
Both the teachers and students were involved in discussions on operation and maintenance of the school infrastructure. Students regularly tend to gardens they grew in the school premises, for meeting water needs for these and other use rain water harvesting structures were erected in the school premises. The designs for the rain water harvesting structures were made such that they are not hidden. The collecting duct, the storage tank etc are all in the open.
Students can practically see how rain water is collected, and to be used. The operation and maintenance of these structures are shared with students by the teachers as part of their routine.
The project has got widespread acceptance in Gujarat as well as nationally. The Gujarat Government extended the approach to about 2200 schools in the state, and has accepted the approach and amended its existing rules and regulations regarding primary education methods in the state. UNICEF has approved this project as a model project for its funding programmes for similar schemes in other states of India.
Plan India has used the Anandshala approach in ten schools of earthquake-affected Baramula district of Jammu and Kashmir. With support from Education department and Rural Engineer this approach is also being used in 16 schools in Farfaud cluster of Arang block in Raipur district. CEE has initiated similar work in Wagodia taluka in Vadodara, with support from Synefra Engineerings and Consultants Ltd, a company of Suzlon.
For more information contact:
Parth Shah, BPS Architects
Natvarlal Nyalchand House, 2,Collegewadi,
Dr. RadhaKrishnan Road, Rajkot-360 001
Phone: 0281 2465704
Atul Pandya, Rural Programme Group
Centre for Environment Education
Thaltej Tekra, Ahmedabad–380054
Ph: 079-26858002 to 9 Fax: 079–26858010