We parked our taxi on the roadside. The school is only accessible on foot. Between the tin sheet houses is a set of long steep steps leading to the two-floored government school building surrounded by construction materials. The staffroom is on the first floor. Right to the staircase is a blue plastic waste bin. A middle-aged teacher is near the bin, sharpening a set of pencils for her younger students.

The above scene unfolded before us in a school in South Point East, Zunheboto, Nagaland, as a part of our school visits. In collaboration with the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE), we were collecting data on student and teacher well-being. We were to visit three more districts, in two phases, interacting with teachers and students, gathering their inputs. 

In this piece, we focus on our observations pertaining to teacher commitment towards student’s well-being during our school visits. Furthermore, we outline the opportunity and the importance of integrating the efforts towards well-being along with parameters such as learning outcomes, dropout rate, pass percentage etc.  

Challenges of Students and Teacher-initiated Support Systems

Student realities in Nagaland are different when compared to many other states in India, especially because of its diverse socioeconomic conditions, cultural norms and geographic terrain. According to the teachers and district education officials, currently, in a majority of the districts, middle school and high school students reside in their relatives’ or acquaintances’ houses to attend schools since accessibility is still a challenge in the state. “Buses aren’t available for the students in the villages to commute to school every day. So, they stay at their relatives’ houses or sometimes even in strangers’ houses in town to attend school. During school hours they attend classes and the rest of the time they work as domestic help in these houses in exchange for food and shelter,” said a high school teacher from Zunheboto

This living arrangement leads to competing responsibilities for students along with their school education. Most students rush to school after completing cooking for the household where they stay and they return after school to a list of unfinished chores.

The situation is also similar in other districts we visited. “It is unfair of us to give them homework when they do not get any time at home to study. And we also know that they lack basic subject knowledge, so we keep the classrooms open for some time after regular school hours and most of us take turns and stay back for an hour offering free tuition to the students,” said a middle school teacher from Mon town. 

Voluntarily offering subject support sessions post-school hours, providing students with free stationery and study materials, organizing counselling sessions on drug abuse, creating support systems for dropout students, and providing career awareness sessions – each of these initiated and led by teachers were some of the examples of teachers’ commitment to student growth and wellbeing we saw in our school visits. 

According to the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) 2020-21 data, Nagaland has one of the highest dropout rates in the country. The majority of these dropouts in the state happen in middle school since the high school syllabus is too vast for students without foundational subject knowledge to master, according to the teachers. Moreover, those who drop out are particularly vulnerable to drug abuse

“Last year, one of our students almost dropped out — he was absent from school for many days. Initially, when we reached out to him and his family, he had started using drugs and did not show any interest in returning to school. But few of the senior teachers visited his family repeatedly, motivating them to support him and worked with him closely. With little support and personal attention, he was back in school in three months and now he is completing his high school,” shared a high school English teacher.

Frequently, news reports and research studies point to the impaired condition of Nagaland’s education system as per the common education system parameters. Poor infrastructure, low learning outcomes and low enrollment rates, low retention rates, and high dropout rates in the state when compared to the national averages often create a negative public discourse around the entire system. In fact, these data points are alarming and require serious immediate attention, but equally important is to understand that students face barriers in accessing school education, quality learning time, and learning experience, and particularly in the tribal areas it is further accentuated by caste, class and gender and often these barriers are interlinked. These challenges affect their overall well-being which also affects their ability to learn and perform in school. 

Understanding these ground realities, teachers are voluntarily taking initiatives and building support systems for the students in and out of classrooms, promoting their well-being and supporting their learning in Nagaland. These efforts invested in the right direction by teachers and community members despite the challenging contextual realities often go missing when education system performance is discussed. However, it is important to learn from these initiatives and make them a part of the system, particularly for students who are struggling. In short, these efforts are paramount, like a middle school teacher in Mon Town said, “what we do might be largely invisible, but we are contributing to the nation in these congested classrooms.” 

About the authors 

Daya Sajeevan is the Associate Manager (Research and Impact) at Dream A Dream, a not-for-profit working to shift mindsets about the purpose of education.

Dr. Sreehari Ravindranath is the Associate Director of Research and Impact at Dream a Dream, Bangalore.

Dr Joseph Thomas R is a Research consultant with Research and Impact at Dream a Dream. 

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