Agrini: A Space for Endeavour and Creation
Parindey: Gourav Jaiswal, Navendu Mishra
Place: Seoni, Madhya Pradesh
"I used to actively engage in various community services throughout my school and engineering days. I think the seed of what I do today sprouted through these early engagements. It was while studying in college that I became part of Museum School which worked in the area of community services as a part of education. Later, after completing studies and as I took up a job, those experiences helped me realise my true calling was in community services as compared to what I was doing part of the job."
– Gourav Jaiswal
" I always considered myself to be marginalised since I was denied a scholarship as I belonged to the General Category. However, it was only after I worked with people from much worse environments did I realise I was privileged. It was then that I realised that due to a lack of basic knowledge, people were deprived of their opportunities and rights. From that realisation, I decided to do something that helps people and also gives me a source of income. Later, I actively started participating in local protests and community campaigns. It was in one of such programs I met my current co-founder, Gourav.”
– Navendu Mishra
Gourav and Navendu are the founders of Agrini Public School. The experimental model school, Agrini, started in 2014 with the vision to improve public education and make education accessible to all. The school is situated in the Pench Tiger Reserve area in Seoni, Madhya Pradesh. Similar political outlooks, philosophies and life experiences were what drew them to work together. It was while participating in a protest for the Seoni-Nagpur Four lane road in 2008-09 that Gourav and Navendu met each other. Later, they got the chance to understand each other more through various other protests and campaigns and strengthen their friendship.
The current Agrini Public School was born from the non-profit organisation, Agrini Kalyan Samaj Society. One of its first initiatives was Neev, in 2012. The project Neev started from Gourav questioning the lack of playschools in villages like the ones in cities. That was how anganwadis were converted into a playschool model using local resources. Teachers of the anganwadi were given computer training and students were given the opportunity to learn multimedia. This was the first time such a project was successfully launched in India. Further, the project was undertaken by the Madhya Pradesh government and implemented in around 15000 anganwadis as a pilot project.
“ Shikshalaya has an important role in most of the things we do today. I think the greatest thing I learned from Shikshalaya was self-confidence – I realised the impossible can be possible.”
Shikshalaya, the centre for resources, had a great role in the emergence of Agrini. In 2012, Gourav started Shikshalaya as a place for children to get together and do activities of their liking. Shikshalaya was situated in a godown on the premises of a panchayat in Kurai. In the beginning, workshops on photography, painting and filmmaking were conducted for children to imbibe their interest in these fields. But later it transformed into a community space. Workshops on agriculture and farming were conducted for the parents of the students. In addition to it, self-help groups were formed for women and unemployed youth.
“One of our realisations while working in Shikshalaya was the limitations in implementing our ideas in government schools.”
Improving the public education system was a major focus of all their initiatives. Through Shikshalaya, they organised workshops for the students and teachers of government schools. It was then Gourav noticed that the teachers in Kurai government school regularly arrived late. He conducted a meeting in the panchayat and presented this issue. Consequently, the panchayat informed the tribal department of Kurai of the same and a fingerprint-punching machine was installed as a solution. Though initially, the teachers did not fully agree with this, eventually they started reaching the school on time. Navendu focused largely on imparting awareness of the constitutional values in children and elders. He firmly believes that the existing education system should be reformed and an amicable society cannot be formed without proper human values. The strong principles upheld by Navendu are clearly reflected in his work. To educate students on the functioning of a panchayat, he engages them in collecting information on different projects done by the panchayat. Navendu has received many fellowships such as Changelooms Learning Fellowship, Plus Trust fellowship, IIM Lucknow Prerna Fellowship, and Wipro Seed Fellowship. He shares all the knowledge acquired through these fellowships to the teachers and students of Agrini.
“I grew up in Kurai village located close to Pench Tiger reserve. Most of the inhabitants were farmers, government employers and teachers. The government schools had teachers who rarely showed up. Parents who were well off could send their children to Seoni. Others eventually left their education,” says Gourav.
The Agrini Public School was founded keeping in mind their experiences with government schools through the Shikshalaya project and the needs of Kurai village. It was in the same village where Gourav was born and grew up. Agrini puts forward the idea of learning through experience. The residents of the village have a major say in most of the decisions taken at the school. They have been given the freedom to even decide the fees for children studying in the school. Another uniqueness of Agrini is the importance given to co-curricular activities. A netball camp was organised in the school as part of promoting gender equality and the students participated in the ‘One Nation Netball Championship’ with a mix of both boys and girls in a team.
“Along with conducting the school, we also participate in local elections and protests and help the candidates to make their election manifesto,” says Navendu. Both Gourav and Navendu have a very clear political stand. They participate in the political processes through ‘Nagrik Morcha’, a political party in the Seoni district, founded by Gourav. Nagrik Morcha has contested several times in the elections conducted in Seoni and has won twice in the Municipal elections. The ‘Unmanifesto’ campaign is another golden feather in their political career. Through Unmanifesto they collect opinions from the youth, help in creating a people’s manifesto and present it to the candidates. In addition to this, they are also part of the national organisation ‘Shiksha Satyagrah’ which aims to make quality education accessible to all.
“In our opinion, school is a social organisation. Because, school is part of society, and it works for the development of the same society later. You can never separate a school from the fabric of society. To make this possible, it is important that one trusts the society.”
“We would shut down the school the day we feel that Agrini has become a huge success. Because we believe in the model of public education.”
Anyone visiting Agrini can clearly see the ideas and values put forward by Gourav and Navendu being reflected through their teachers and the students. Even while calling it an experimental school, Agrini still becomes a role model to other private and government schools through its way of functioning. Navendu’s opinion that the school would be shut down when it becomes a huge success is also based on the practical success of the above-mentioned model. As they believe that children should receive education through the public education system, they also work on revising the government school system through Agrini by making necessary interventions. While Agrini is openly presented to the world as an experimental school, we can see the battle for a revolution in the education system and new creations born through these experiments.
Gourav and Navendu can be reached at: email@example.com
Translated from Malayalam to English by Tanya Prasad