Ahmedabad: Four years ago, everyone gave up on Ranjeet Bhadoriya. The boy had failed twice and the English-medium private school in Ahmedabad wanted him to leave. No other school would have him. His family despaired of the “bad company” he kept. Then Bhadoriya got thrown a lifeline. A relative told his father about a school about 45km away from Ahmedabad in Gujarat’s Kheda district.
“I got admission in the seventh grade and over the next four years I got a real education,” says Ahmedabad-based Bhadoriya, now 22.
After passing his class X with 60% marks last year, he’s now studying for a diploma in civil engineering in the Ahmedabad Institute of Technology. He wants to design and build highways after graduating.
The Shree Swaminarayan Gurukul Hariyala has turned around the lives of several boys who nearly got discarded on the scrap heap of an education system incapable of handling those who don’t fit the mould.
Viresh, son of auto-rickshaw driver Dilipbhai Chauhan, just about managed to pass his exams until class VIII. The teachers at his private school in the walled city area of Ahmedabad weren’t able to pay him the attention that might have helped him improve. “We approached other schools, but no other school was willing to take him with his poor marks. Then a friend of mine suggested a school that takes failures,” says Chauhan.
After his class IX and X at the gurukul, Viresh scored 81%, going on to pursue a diploma in instrumentation and control engineering from Government Polytechnic, Ahmedabad. He has worked as a team leader for the customer care departments at Tata Teleservices Ltd and Reliance Communications Ltd in Ahmedabad, and now plans to turn entrepreneur with a laundry chain.
The residential gurukul welcomes students who have failed elsewhere. It seeks out children with educational and behavioural issues, recognizing that both are in fact aspects of the same “problem”.
It was founded in 1991 by Bhaktjivan Das Shastri, now 70, a monk who belongs to the Swaminarayan sect, which was established by Sahjanand Swami sometime in the 17th century in Gujarat. The sect has its roots in Hinduism’s Vaishnavite tradition with more than 20 million followers across the globe. The sect has two headquarters—in Ahmedabad and in Vadtal in Kheda.
The Gujarati medium school, which boasts an average 90-95% success ratio in class X results since starting, has educated more than 5,000 students from various parts of the state across castes and religions. Most of its students are professionals, entrepreneurs or pursuing higher education. The fee is Rs 20,000 a year in the higher classes and Rs 2,400 a year in the primary section.
Shastri, who began teaching when he was 18 while studying for his bachelor of arts, came to start the school after a change in his own thinking.
“During my 30-year-long association with Rajkot Swaminarayan Gurukul (a reputed school in Rajkot run by the Swaminarayan sect) as the head administrator, I used to heavily stress on admitting only meritorious students,” he says. “I even introduced a double-layer entrance exam system for new admissions, as my ambition was to produce a few students who top the board exams.”
But denying admission to students always caused him pain—after all, he himself had failed in English in his class X exam at his first attempt.
That’s when he decided to start the school.
“What is the role of a teacher if he teaches students who are anyway bright?” Shastri says. “A true teacher is the one who is not afraid to take the weakest of all the students and then train him to become a good student.”
The school currently has 400 students, almost 60% of whom have had a weak academic track record elsewhere.
“Teaching such students is a true test for a teacher. You can’t just start teaching them, you have to first understand their psyche, their problem. Here, in gurukul I first teach my teachers how to teach,” says Shastri.
The school has 15 teachers, led by principal Jignesh Patel.
“The role of a teacher in teaching average or good students ends by merely giving them notes and being friendly. But teaching the weakest and the naughtiest students is more like being a psychologist, which I learnt here,” says Patel, who taught science at a private school in Kheda before joining the gurukul as principal in 2008. He says getting students to acquire discipline is the most important part of the school’s system and is the key factor behind its success.
“I spent only one year at gurukul and during that (time) learnt the most important lesson of my life—discipline. I learnt that I was better off without TV, and waking up early really helps if you are a student,” says a 32-year-old former alumnus of the gurukul, now an advocate in Surat. His Surat school did not readmit him in 1999 after he failed twice in class X.
The lawyer did not want to be named as he fears his past academic record may harm his professional career. Several other former students also didn’t want to be identified for this reason.
The school doesn’t have televisions, but has computers. Students have to wake up at 5am and study for four hours before school starts. There are two prayer sessions every day, besides which there’s a karate coach and spoken English classes.
“The only condition we put before the parents is that (they) don’t come and visit their wards too often as that distracts them from studies. We grant only three days’ leave to students, besides the usual vacations,” says Patel.
Strict discipline, the cultivation of a sense of esteem for education and elders, and respecting students as individuals are some of the principles that guide the school and its teachers.
Before coming to the gurukul, Ashok Odedara, who hails from Porbander, had failed four times.
“Here, we don’t make them feel bad for their failures, but try to address the key problem in their psyche. Odedara was a bright student until class III. His performance deteriorated after his father went abroad to work,” says Kishore Majethiya, who teaches English.
The lack of an authority figure was key to Odedara’s performance—something the teachers at the gurukul have been able to remedy.
Odedara, 19, is now busy with his class X exams and has plans for the future. “I want to become a scientist. I am working hard and hope to clear my exams,” he says.