More than a Teacher – An Inspiring Story of Deep Narayan Nayak
At a time when the world was distressed with the news of a deadly disease and a difficult lockdown, Deep Narayan took to the streets to educate his students who could not afford an online education.
We have all heard the old proverb ‘Where there is a will, there is a way, but have you ever heard ‘Where there is a wall, there is a way. This is the proverb that Deep Narayan Nayak identifies with as you see an unassuming primary school teacher painting blackboards across mud house walls in a small village in Bardhaman and teaching science on the streets. When most people see a dead end, he sees a medium to educate. His education revolution has turned students into learners, guardians into students, and entire villages into learning spaces.
Deep Narayan Nayak is a beaming icon in the field of education for the underprivileged. He is a teacher at Tilka Majhi Adibasi Free Primary School, Bardhaman in West Bengal with a decade of service to his credit. Coming from a humble background, he recalls the challenges he faced while striving for formal education and how he never received the privilege of new books, and uniforms. Every time someone gave him an old book to study, he was joyous and even more determined to reform rural education. Having seen a tough phase early on, he was inspired by his own life, to ensure no child in his class has to witness the same.
Raasta’r Master – A novel idea
At a time when the world was distressed with the news of a deadly disease and a difficult lockdown, instead of being beaten down by circumstance, Deep Narayan ji took to the streets and upon himself to educate his students who could not afford an online education. The lockdown of March – May 2020 was a precarious time for all, but especially for underprivileged students of remote rural areas given the lockdown induced digital divide. He began teaching science and maths on the village street with 2-3 students and soon became a local revolution. Owing to the lack of blackboard, slates, and notebooks, he painted the outer walls of houses into blackboards, so each child has his own space to write and practice by themselves. Another crucial part of Rasta’r Master Project is Adult Education where guardians of the students are taught basic writing and reading skills.
24hr Learning Cycle
Deep Narayan Ji’s focus on guardian education has a deeper intention; it is to create a 24hr learning cycle in the homes of his students. He teaches Maths, Science and Language to the students by day and their mothers by evening, so when the guardians go home, their children help them learn and write. Recalling an incident, he shares the story of a mother who told him that every time she would tell her daughter to study or do her homework, the daughter would instantly quip that “Maa, you should study too. Have you practised writing your name like I taught you last night?” The mother’s eyes gleamed with joy as she narrated this tale and asked him to help her learn faster so she can surprise her daughter.
Fostering scientific temper
“Not just formal education but modern and scientific education is the need of the hour”. Deep Narayan ji believes in the power of raising scientific temper in his students. He feels that updating them and getting them curious about latest technology will ultimately make children more self dependent in the future. For the entire village, in fact, understanding how technology can solve problems is crucial because it helps them fix things on their own. He makes an effort to have scientific gadgets like microscopes, projectors, smartphones and laptops on a daily basis in his classrooms to raise the students’ self confidence in their ability to use them.
He records his daily classes with the children and using a projector, the videos are shown to mothers who attend his evening school. This approach has a twofold impact – it helps them learn what is being taught in the class and they also get to see their child learning new things, this becomes a source of immense satisfaction for these parents who work hard in the fields all day. Their measure of success is to ensure their child does better than them in life. Deep Narayan ji’s emphasis on digital education is successfully achieving two goals simultaneously – bringing more adults to his guardian literacy programs and paving way for a zero dropout rate in his students.
More than a ‘Teacher’ – A Community leader
In addition to his work at the school, during the vaccination drives for Covid19, Deep Narayan ji took the responsibility of ensuring that all senior citizens and pregnant women of the village get vaccinated. This was a difficult task because of rampant misinformation and fear at the early stage of the drives. He educated the villagers using various innovative methods like images of popular celebrities getting vaccinated, microscopes to help them visualise the virus and understand better. He even arranged a Vaccine Rath shuttle to ensure transport to and from vaccination centres – a true leader in every sense
For his students, children and adults alike, he created a mobile library on a cycle, with books ranging from ayurveda, science to small fiction as per the interest of the community. He believes that due to the prevalence of gadgets and smartphones, children are drifting away from books and this initiative was to bring them back into the cosy comfort of reading.
“Kicking a football will take you closer to the Divine than any amount of prayer.” Inspired by this quote by Swami Vivekananda, Deep Narayan ji’s efforts are also towards ensuring a healthy mind in a healthy body. He frequently provides his students with protein rich diets like egg and milk to cover their nutritional needs and fight malnutrition which is quite common in rural children of that region. Yoga, sports and exercise are also a daily activity in Raasta Schools. He is truly giving new meaning to holistic education and all round development.
On Gender inequity
As of 2021, majority of the nearly 6 million children not in schools are girls and the dropout rate between the two genders is also highly skewed towards female. Owing to his long service in rural schools, Deep Narayan ji understands the core problem behind the increasing female dropout rate. Other than the lack of infrastructure and sanitation, the lack of confidence among parents is an overwhelming reason for girls dropping out. Most parents are unaware of the talents, skills and abilities of their girl child and hence make the decision of only sending their boys to schools. With this insight, he constantly motivates his female students more than others and helps guardians gain confidence in their child’s vision.
Challenges in the journey
All good work sees a vast variety of hurdles on its way. Deep Narayan ji’s muheem was no different. When he started his work in the villages, not a lot of people had faith in his dreams. He was questioned for his methods multiple times and faced some resistance from the villagers as well. But persistence and consistency are key. Inspired by the lives of Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Lata Mangeshkar etc. he feels that it is important to strive and continue good work especially when people are not watching. His efforts slowly and steadily garnered appreciation among the villagers.
‘Samasya hi samadhaan ka sutra hai’ – understanding the problem is first step towards finding its solution. Working at the grassroot level his entire career, he intimately knows the many problems faced by rural and underprivileged students. His begins his efforts by first understanding the root of the problem and then ideating and innovating way to fix it. An important lesson for rural reformers and social workers, diagnosing the cause is crucial before its treatment.
He aspires to spread this idea across the country, in the smallest villages and farthest towns, emphasising on holistic education with STEM, life skills and community development. Deep Narayan Ji dreams of extending his Raasta’r Master project and recruiting more teachers who can help him carry forward this social revolution.
Having received recognition from various foreign teachers and media houses, Deep Narayan Ji credits the success of his idea to his diligent students, their mothers who continue to study, social workers who helped him along the way, his supportive fellow teachers and the entire village for their willingness to learn and grow. He dreams of turning his local social revolution into a national one.
Deep Narayan Nayak Ji’s story is of a teacher going Above And Beyond all calls of duty to reform education. His joy when talking about his students is infectious and truly inspiring. His efforts have changed the life course of his students and their guardians in Bardhaman and will continue to do so for many more.
There are many teachers like him, working tirelessly, selflessly, day in and day out, without recognition, only to ensure that their students can light up their lives. We, at SarkaariSchools.in, recognise their unstoppable spirit, their indomitable grit and salute their work. Sarkaari hai Asarkaari!!
(With Sonal, Storywriter working with SarkariSchool.in)
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