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Yes, Prime Minister
Savvy Soumya Misra
“If the students don’t turn up we go to their house. And if they have bunked school there is penalty. The parents have to shell out Rs 2 for each day of missed school. Obviously, we don’t take money if the student is sick,” Asmita smiled and said. Christopher Lakra, a teacher with the school for over 20 years, chipped in, “the attendance has improved dramatically.”
I met 13-year old Asmita Kujur in Jharkhand’s Gumla district a few months ago. My colleague and I were meeting with members of the Village Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Committee (VHSNC) and School Management Committees (SMC) at the local middle school in Janawal village. Clad in a neat blue and white uniform, hair braided and tied together with a red ribbon, Asmita and 20 other students waited with bouquets to perform a welcome song.The bouquets were fresh and colourful and the song wasa lively, foot-tapping number.
As we got talking, it turned out she was the Prime Minister of the Bal Sansad of her school. Bal Sansad or Children’s Parliament is a novel way to teach children about the democratic processes and is included in the Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan1. Led by a Prime Minister, the Bal Sansad has a Deputy Prime Minister and a bunch of MPs. Portfolios include finance, health, sports and (in some cases) environment.
Elections are held for the office bearers of the Bal Sansad. From amongst the elected office bearers the students select a Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and the Deputy are from the senior most class. The MPs are chosen in a manner that all subsequent classes are well represented. The elections are held annually. The Prime Minister automatically becomes a member of the SMC.
The Bal Sansad isn’t just about role-playing; the members take their job seriously. And no, they do not fling microphones at each other!
What Ministers Do
Each member of the Bal Sansad has their tasks cut out. They ensure that both children and teachers turn up for school, the children maintain cleanliness, the mid-day meal is cooked and everyone gets it, the campus is tidy, toilets are in working condition (as much as possible), the notebooks and textbooks are in order, and that the school doesn’t run out of sports supplies.
At Danua village in the neighbouring Hazaribagh district, Bal Sansad PM Ram Prakash Kumar and his ministers were busy getting the students in a file, distributing clean plates and keeping the din low. We had reached the school at about lunchtime. Ram and his 20-member cabinet managed 500 students in the school; the primary school was upgraded to a middle school over five years ago.
The sports minister, a young chirpy kid (whose name I regretfully forget), explained that the Bal Sansad had made it mandatory for all children to participate in some sport — Cricket, kabaddi, hockey… anything. He said that though the sports supplies were supposed to be provided by the school, they collected money so that they could spend on an occasional ball or a skipping rope in case the old ones were lost or broken. Ram, as Prime Minister, proposed this at the SMC meeting and got a go ahead.
Electoral processes, roles and responsibilities apart, Bal Sansad has instilled confidence in students. Phoolmani Banara, the health minister at the primary school in Haldishahi in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, was a shy kid. The teachers say it was almost impossible to elicit an answer from her. A bright student, she was elected as a BalSansad member andmade the health minister. The new roledid wonders for her. Not only does she ensure that students come to school bathed and in a clean uniform but also ensures that the water filter is never empty; the playground tidy and the first aid kit is well stocked. She has also donned the spokesperson hat promptly answering any questions thrown at the students by the visitors.
As noted earlier, the Bal Sansad has had a positive impact on the attendance. Children, earlier, skipped school to help their parents with tasks like grazing and collecting wood; some still do. One of the jobs of the Prime Minister is to keep a check on the probable dropouts and get them back to class. It involves visiting homes and talking (requesting and cajoling included) to parents. Sometimes a two rupee penalty system, like the one Asmita mentioned, helps in keeping a full house.
It was her idea. As Prime Minister and member of the SMC she proposed it and got an approval. Inquisitive, I asked about the collection and how they intended to spend it. She quickly checked with her finance minister (another 13-year old girl) and said the Bal Sansad had collected Rs 200. “Well this is going to be our last year. We want to leave something for the school that they can remember us by.” Touché.
I was reminded of Asmita when the National Parliament met for the Budget session. With arguments and counter arguments thrown at each other and each trying to outdo the other to wear the badge of a ‘true patriot’, I couldn’t help but think of Asmita, Ram, Phoolmani and their dedication and respect towards their school, their colleagues and the education system; and of the small lessons in conduct they have for our Prime Minister and MPs.
After all it is similar to running a nation, albeit, on a smaller canvas.
Written By Savvy Soumya Misra, Research Coordinator at Oxfam India
1Though it is considered to be a part of SSA, but not mentioned exclusively in the policy documents. However, it is largely dependent on the states to form it and make it functional. The five states that Oxfam India’s education project are located have Bal Sansad’s in place. http://ssa.nic.in/monitoring-documents_old/jrm/JRM/JRM_JHARKHAND_1_.pdf
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