5T Induced Transformation of Onslow Institution and Other Government Schools Generate Hope in Empowering Public Funded Schools in Odisha

Today on 16th November 2021 as Chief Minister of Odisha is dedicating 130 Government schools transformed by employing 5T vision and, it includes Onslow Institution as well, one can say with reasonable pride that it fulfills the vision of Mahatma Gandhi who in 1931 while participating in the Round Table Conference had referred to the Montessori School model and wanted class rooms in Indian schools in that pattern. That vision has to some extent been reflected in the manner in which Government schools are being transformed in Odisha. It also fulfills the idea referred to in the new National Policy on Education that the glory and prestige of Govt schools should be retrieved.

The Onslow Institution High School located in Chatrapur of Ganjam district, Odisha, is my alma mater. With its legacy of imparting education to generations of students for more than  150 years it stands out as one of the very old schools not only of Odisha but also of our country. I had the privilege of pursuing my studies there when I joined in 1973 as a 9th class student and passed out after completing my matriculation in 1975. That year Onslow Institution created history when my class mate Amulya Patnaik stood first in Odisha in matriculation examination.

Restoring the Glory of Government Schools

The Onslow Institution a nursery for myself and many more batches of students always evoked pride and glory as we marched ahead in life based on the solid foundations laid during the course of pursuing studies there. But tragically we saw the sliding back of Government schools all over Odisha and India owing to neoliberal policies followed by the Government of India in 1990s after economic reforms were adopted in that period. Because of theses policies the State substantially withdrew from several sectors including education and health and the public funded schools, colleges and universities suffered as the fund flow from the Government was squeezed. That became one of the factors for the downfall of such public funded educational establishments. Onslow Institution also was badly hit. I was disheartened to see the dilapidated condition of the buildings during my visits to my alma mater on several occasions. The school which had the credentials of being inclusive and all embracing by registering in its fold students from diverse backgrounds and with varied educational standards, also did not show good results and its standards fell. A time came when it did not attract very bright and talented students because of mushrooming of private schools. Only students from underprivileged sections of society who could not afford to enroll themselves in private schools headed for Onslow. It was a pattern which was seen all over the country and a sensitive scholar and commentator like P. Sainath, author of “Everybody Loves a Good Draught”, said that students hailing from poor economic back grounds have become invisible in private funded educational institutions and, therefore, to see such students one has to pay a visit to Government schools. That kind of sad development actually looked irreversible and Government schools which once produced some of the brightest students were seen to be lagging behind due to policies followed by successive political regimes both at the Centre and States.

It is gratifying to note that to address that grave problem Naveen Patnaik regime in Odisha has taken a bold and trend setting step first by reserving in medical and engineering colleges seats for students passing out from the Government schools of the State and substantially altering and improving such schools by employing 5T Vision – Technology, Team work, Timely completion, Transparency and Transformation.

Smart Class Rooms and Quality Teaching

The trend of establishing smart class rooms which was commenced in some schools in Hinjili has been extended to other schools and I saw this when I visited Onslow Institution yesterday, i.e. on 15th November 2021. A separate building has been constructed with several smart classes set up there. Each smart class has nice benches and study tables right from the first to the last row. It has sound systems fitted in strategic locations on the walls so that teachers using the microphones would transmit their teachings right up to the last bench with clarity. In fact these smart class rooms with sound systems reaching out to the last student have eliminated the hierarchical notions such as front and back benchers. This revolutionary aspect to include every student in the fold of teaching deserves serious attention and it flows from the idea of team spirit embodied in 5T, the eventual goal of which is transformation.

The smart class rooms have state of the art black boards which have facilities to use internet by employing digital technology in pursuance of the vision of 5T, the one cardinal aspect of which is employment of technology.

What really struck me in the Onslow Institution is not only the smart class rooms but also the setting up of digital library which has given an added dimension to the augmentation of the strength of the school. I recall that the statement of one Onslowite Rajesh Mahapatra who spent a year in the school and recalled that the library of Onslow Institution completely transformed his life and outlook. Looking back at those days spent in Onslow he said that in that library he studied biographies and autobiographies and got empowered by the thought that he should pursue ideas in life and not just exert himself for degrees and marks by doing well in examinations. He proudly refers to the fact that what he studied in the library of Onslow brought out radical transformation in the way he thought and shaped his future by engaging in the adventure of ideas rather than building on the strength of examination outcomes. I am confident that the digital library of Onslow will be a leap forward in firing the imagination of students to think big and chatter their destiny to prove their worth.

The Onslow Institution which looked dilapidated a few years back is now rejuvenated by the manner in which the old buildings have been refurbished by applying impressive paint and involvimg  alumni who have come forward and contributed their bit. The Government of Odisha headed by CM Naveen Patnaik in fulfilling its avowed policy commitment is contributing double the amount to what the alumni is pooling. This transformation of Onslow Institution in terms of digitally based smart class rooms, library and freshness added to the vintage buildings of  more than century old school inspires renewed confidence that it would show good and great results in tune with its rich record in the field of education.

What I witnessed in Onslow Institution in terms of providing new digitally driven class rooms and infrastructure for teaching and pursuit of ideas constitute a step to retrieve the glory of Onslow as seen in the proven record of high performance in its successive phases spanning more than one hundred and fifty years.

Illuminating life of students

Illumination of Onslow Institution school building in Chatrapur yesterday on 15th November 2021, just a day before it along with other transformed schools are being dedicated by Naveen Patnaik, is truly impressive and impactful. The spectacle associated with such illumination filled the heart with joy. The glow of Onslow is reflected in its more than hundred fifty year old legacy. Now it has to bring lustre to the faces of new generation of students through the measures embodied in the establishment of smart class rooms, transmission of quality teaching to students, high scoring performance of boys and girls enrolled in the rolls of Onslow Institution and their excellence in extracurricular activities including sports and games. The combination of smart infrastructure with excellent method of imparting education should be a game changer to illuminate the lives of students who represent the diversities of society. Such diversities are not found in the so called public schools which attract students of well off sections of society. When I studied in Onslow in early and mid 1970s the classes had real diversities because students came from a variety of social and economic backgrounds and they had different kinds of academic profficiencies. Now such diversities are missing in private schools and government schools are the last option for the so called bright students who normally come from better off sections of society. The classes with diversities in Onslow and several other Government schools of Odisha apart from enabling to do reasonably well in studies taught us the values of empathy and caring and fine tuned our sensitivities. Illumination of heart and mind based on those sensitivities added real brightness to the life beyond Onslow years. It is good that the transformation is now seen in the Government school class rooms and ambience. Such transformation should be deeper to embrace quality teaching, better performance of students in academic field and other activities beyond course curricula.. That would be more authentic and genuine illumination which would be truly enlightening. Induction of Upendra Tripathi as adviser of Odisha CM on education and his dynamism in dealing with educational resources has given a new momentum to take forward the cause of elevating the standard of government schools.

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