Here elderly women go to school for first time

Sheetal More, a 30-year-old teacher, teaches at Aajibaichi Shaala (Grandmothers' School) in Fangane village, India
Sheetal More, a 30-year-old teacher, teaches at Aajibaichi Shaala (Grandmothers' School) in Fangane village, India

Phangane, Maharashtra, March 6 :  Before 2 pm each day, when locals of Phangane village in Maharashtra usually take a quick little sleep in the heat of the day, older women in bright pink sarees head towards to a colourful hut, clutching school bags and plastic bags.

Inside the hut, decorated with banners and flowers, the women cautiously sit cross-legged on cotton mats on the mud floor and pull out slates, notebooks, chalk and pencils. Minutes later, a younger woman leads them in a prayer song before they begin reciting the Marathi alphabet after her.

Minutes later, a younger woman leads them into a prayer song before they begin to quoting the Marathi alphabet after her.

The ‘Aajibaichi Shala’, or grandmothers’ school, is perhaps the only one in India for uneducated, elderly women.

This school teaches the women to read and write, and basic arithmetic. This school set up by a charitable trust and Yogendra Bangar, a teacher at the village’s primary school.

“These women did not have the chance to study when they were young,” said Yogendra Bangar.

“It’s not as if they want to go to college or work in an office now. But they want to read and write, and sign their names, like everyone else in their families.”

India’s literacy levels increasing steadily over the past decades as the economy expanded and greater prominence was placed on education.

But in rural areas, women still lag men, where girls are often not sent to school or are pulled out after primary school so they can work at home or in the fields.

According to the official data, 79 %t of India’s rural men are literate, While the rate for women literacy is only 59 percent.

Last year on International Women’s Day on March 8, Aajibaichi Shala set up this school for women over the age of 60.

The School was first run beside the home of the woman who was the only one teacher, 30-year-old Sheetal More.

The inaugural day of the centre was celebrated like a festival, with entire families accompanied the women to their first day of school, Sheetal said.

After that, classes have been moved to a purpose-built hut in her back garden of her home, in the shade of a large mango tree.

“At first I was a bit anxious about teaching such aged women. Even my mother-in-law comes to class,” said Sheetal More, who has finished her high school.

“But they are all so impatient and behave just like little children in class. Every other teacher teaches children; only I have the opportunity to teach elderly women,” Sheetal said.

Duties:

There is little to determine Phangane from other villages in Maharashtra, one of India’s wealthiest state.

About 120 km (75 miles) from the crowded financial hub of Mumbai, the village of 70 families is a neat territory, with clean mud roads and brick homes divided by fences and gardens.

During the daytime, women in the villages go to their daily duties, cleaning, cooking and tending to the livestock and young grandchildren.

About thirty women aged 60 to 90 years attend the classes for 2 hours in the afternoon, 6 days in a week.

On the last year, they have learned the Marathi alphabet, numbers and can write their names, Yogendra Bangar said.

The women, including Sheetal More, wear fuchsia colour sarees to class to copy the experience of wearing a school uniform, Bangar said.

Kamal Keshav Tupange, 68, one of the students in school says that “I like going to the school – I have learned to write my name and I have learned the alphabet,”

Tupange, who was married at the age of 12 and had never been go to school says that “My knees hurt, so I can’t sit on the floor for a long time; that’s the only problem am facing. But I still go every day”.

It is an indistinguishable story with most other older women in the village. Most did not go to school in their childhood and were married at a young age.

While the legal age for marriage for women in India is 18 years, nearly half the women are married earlier even now, according to the United Nation’s children’s agency, UNICEF.

With the aim of giving children from poor and other disadvantaged backgrounds the right to free and compulsory education to the age of 14, India enacted the landmark Right to Education Act in 2009.

Launching a welfare campaign in 2015 titled: ‘Beti bachao, beti padhao’ (save the girl child, educate the girl child), Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made education of girls a priority.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon in Phangane, about 20 women made it to class with their books and bags, the ends of their sarees covering their heads. One came with her grandchild.

After the prayer and roll call, they recited the Marathi alphabets. Some practised writing in their notebooks and their slates, their bangles clinking as they focused on their letters.

Others chatted among themselves and giggled. The class ended with a recitation of the multiplication tables, as children ran in to look in on their grandmothers.

“I did not study when I was young,” said Anusuya Kokedar, 65.

“It’s nice to sit with the other elder women in the village and learn. I can sign my name now, and read and write a little; it feels good.”

With Agency Inputs

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