PEECHARA, INDIA – Unlike most 12-year-olds, Renuka Goud, a Lambadi gypsy girl, doesn’t like summer vacation from school.
“Going to school is so much fun,” says Renuka, playing with a piece of mirror on her bright pink skirt. “It is more fun than playing with my friends!”
“A nonformal method of schooling goes very well with the living style of the Lambadis, who live close to the nature.”
– Anil Kumar Pathlavat, Lambadi community member
The sadness in her eyes reflects how deeply she misses her school. Her excitement might have to do with the fact that she doesn’t attend class in an ordinary building. And she doesn’t take a school bus to commute.
Rather, her school is a large, yellow bus. Called the School on Wheels, it roams from village to village, bringing education to the doorsteps of children in rural areas who do not attend formal school.
“My daughter has nothing on her mind but the school,” says Renuka’s mother, Kalabai Goud, looking proudly at her daughter. “She even talks of the school in her sleep.”
This is something new in the Goud family. Renuka’s mother never went toschool. In fact, nobody in the history of her family ever knew how to read or write.
Mobility had been in the veins of the Lambadis for centuries. A nomadic community, they are believed to have their roots in the Romas of Eastern Europe. Until a few decades ago, they moved from place to place, herding goats and transporting food via ox carts.
But today, the community has a more settled life, with the majority of them even maintaining a permanent address. The Indian government has granted the Lambadis the official status of a tribal community, which, according to the Indian Constitution, entitles them to several privileges, including quotas in government jobs.
Yet, education has eluded most of the Lambadis, owing to their remote locations and also the low priority of schooling among the community members.
In the Goud family as well, this cycle of illiteracy continued for centuries until one day in March, when the mobile school reached Peechara, the village in southern India where the family lives. Following an informal discussion between the school teacher and Renuka’s family elders, the little girl jumped on the bus, starting a new journey of her own aboard the School on Wheels.
The school, launched by the local Rotary Club of Hanamkonda, attracts children with an air-conditioned bus brimming with educational and recreational tools. There are textbooks, books with colored illustrations, posters, maps and even CDs. In addition, there are toys and other sports equipment, including balls, cricket kits, badminton rackets, board games and slides.
But what Renuka likes best about her school is the “big TV.” Indeed, keeping up with its unconventional character, the School on Wheels teaches children through the audiovisual medium.
Within two months of its launch, the school already covers 84 villages, according to the Rotary Club of Hanamkonda. Every day, it visits two or three villages, spending three to four hours at each teaching children, interacting with the community and discussing the importance of education with locals.
B. Sridevi, a teacher in the school, says the program targets a wide audience.
“We hold a common class for children of all ages,” she says. “So, we teach things that will benefit everyone: alphabets, numbers, basic science, etc.”
She says that the curriculum also reaches beyond academics.
“We also teach them about child rights, basic hygiene and health,” she says.
The teachers strive to be creative in conveying these lessons to students during class.