Breaking the glass ceiling: This Maharashtra school is teaching grannies how to read and write

Clad in a pink uniform with a backpack on their shoulders, nearly 29 students attend this school to learn basic alphabet and numbers as well as how to sign their names.

You may have come across many unique schools in India but Maharashtra’s Aajibaichi Shala is a school with a difference. Clad in a pink uniform with a backpack on their shoulders, nearly 29 women over the age of 60 attend this unique school to receive a basic education.

26-year-old Sheetal More is the sole teacher of this school which is located in Fangane village at Murbad in Thane district. She proudly says “All my 29 students can sign now.”

One of the objectives of this school is to ensure that the women learn to sign their names, thereby ending the compulsion of putting thumb impressions on official documents.

The day at school begins with a prayer and students go on to recite the alphabet in Marathi. The school was established by professor Yogendfra Bangar on March 8 which was International Women’s Day. Initially, the strength of the classroom was 30, however it came down to 29 when one of the grannies passed away.

Sheetal had earlier decided to halt her education after she failed to clear her SSC exams. However, she is now taking her Class X exams again.

This unique schools demands unique teaching methods. Sheetal told The Indian Express,

One of the things that I have to do is ensure I do not praise any student individually. If I praise one aaji (granny), the other aajis feel bad and complain that if I would focus on them, even they would perform as well. Over a period of time, I would either praise the entire class at once, or not praise anyone. It has worked so far. I have learnt many aspects of teaching on the go.

What further complicates the situation is the presence of her mother in law at first bench. Emphasising that she cannot make the women angry, Sheetal added,

Sometimes I have to be strict with the aajis if they are not focusing. It would feel very odd to pull up my mother-in-law in the class.

One of her students is a 92 year old. Her hands tremble when she writes, so Sheetal have to hold her hand to make her write. The class currently focuses on ‘barakhadi (alphabet) and numbers’. The class for grannies operates between 2 pm and 4 pm from the only school in the village that teaches up to Class 5 and is run by the zilla parishad.