one the village houses

19.02.13 | what makes a good classroom?

The workshop with the teachers continued today, but this time with Gauri, Seema, Ankita and Pryanka as Sarve and Bina was busy with Saswati. We made drawings of the existing nursery and the new building site. The major problem with the existing nursery structure is the wall dividing the two rooms. Because it has a huge gap before reaching the ceiling, sound easily cut across the rooms and it becomes too noisy (the structure used to be an old cowshed). This problem was reflected in the drawing for the new building site as each room was separately placed. Initially, we asked the teachers to draw three classrooms and two toilets in the building site, however they had a bigger vision, including a hall, library, office space, principle room and playground with a stage. Gauri was keen to have a hall where everyone can gather and carry out various types of activities. She showed us a huge collection of toys for the children which was stored in the smaller room. The teachers were very serious making the plan for the new site that we also used the measure to have a better idea of our plan.

The followings are some notes from the workshop:

–       A good classroom size is 4.5m x 5m, same as the larger existing classroom.
–       Teachers like the “big” windows in the existing nursery and natural light was preferred over artificial light.
–       Teachers were keen on having an office space for themselves. Every day after closing the nursery, all teachers gather to have a meeting.
–       Boundaries around the school site as well as between the playground and the area with buildings are sought.
–       The library could be the size of the existing smaller room (approximately 4m x 4.5m). Both teachers and students will use the library.
–       Each classroom should accompany 20 students and the hall should be big enough to fit 60 people.
–       Gauri drew a staircase leading to the hall. Later that day, we find out that all classrooms in the government school were placed about three steps above the ground. Also, it was interesting to find out at the private school that students took off their sandals before entering classrooms.
–       Seema drew a stage in the playground. The stage could be roughly 4m x 3m.
–       They also wanted a principle room for Bina, who is the head teacher.
The teachers were in harmony and we had a lot of fun together!

Alex spent time conducting an architectural research around the area, especially on the traditional mud buildings. The main load bearing walls are made of mud bricks stacked in a two-layer pattern. The main structural element of the roof is either bamboo or wood. On top of this is a layer of bamboo which holds the mud placed on top. Below or above the mud are leaves that protect the roof in case the water comes through the top layer of terracotta roof tiles. Beautifully detailed pots are used to cover the joints of the tiles. The main decorative pots are placed on top where two roofs in different directions meet. The eaves of the roof are supported by timber haunches that go into the mud, or a timber lintel that goes along the whole building. This lintel also opens up for the andara/bahara (inside/outside) entrance space that is located on the longer side of the building. The construction has two dark buffer spaces leading to the main hall at the centre of the building. Common problems with these structures are the lack of light and the fact that the eaves are not long enough. When rain falls down from the roof, it bounces back to the building. The constant amount of water cutting into the brick walls leads to the collapse of walls. Some locals have dealt with this issue by making a little slanting downhill along the edge of the building. This protects the structural mud walls and leads the water that falls down from the roof away from the building, rather than being reflected back to the building by the flat ground. Mud bricks are not the only construction technique used in Hariharpur, rammed earth is also available.

In the afternoon, Seema’s brother Santos took us around the village. First he took us to the other private school and it turned out that he is one of the teachers there. The school opened in 1996 and now holding classes for primary, secondary and higher secondary education. The building had four classrooms, but in addition, one class was held outside. There, they had a small blackboard on a chair in front of the students. In all classes, students were sitting on the ground without any tables. Girls and boys were separately seated and one of the classes had only girls. They are having one morning session and one afternoon session in order to double the amount of students. Currently, they have over 200 students with 8 or 9 teachers.

We thanked the principle for showing us around, and went off to take a walk around the area where the scheduled caste community lives. Hariharpur could be roughly divided into three groups based on the former caste system: the Brahmins, Yadavs and the scheduled castes. Although many efforts have been carried out legally to abolish the caste system since the 1950s, the division of caste is still visible in a conservative state such as Uttar Pradesh and especially in a village like Hariharpur. It is obvious that houses are located according to caste and different caste clusters are divided by roads. Family names are another element indicating which caste people belong to. Therefore, some people prefer not to mention their family name.

In the scheduled caste cluster, we found many mud structures. Some of them were nicely maintained with daily water supply applied by hand, others seemed to be halfway broken. Hay was present on the mud walls. We were expecting to meet some of the workers at the brick factory, but only one or two members of the scheduled caste community seemed to work there. Instead, we came across two contractors living in a two-story buildings which stood out from the rest of the community. During our walk, we got to visit one of the teacher’s house and also the family of the gentlemen working at the nursery. Siam raj, one of Alex’s friends, also joined our walk and shared his knowledge on mud construction. One trick he taught us was to put one layer of whitewash on the brick wall before you add more layers of miti (cow dung & mud) to strengthen the wall. Thatched roofs were commonly used as well as terracotta roofs. The use of terracotta roofs, however, was more obvious among the traditional buildings of the Brahmin community. As a contrast, the use of mud was more alive in the scheduled caste community.

We asked Santos to take us to the government school located at the very end of the village, opposite to the entrance from Azamgarh. The school property was massive, with classrooms for different levels of education and a huge field. Santos told us that there are about 1500 students going to the school. The school was built in cement and little light was coming through the tiny windows. The concrete floors felt quite cold and hostile. Classrooms were approximately 5m by 4.5m. Beside the classrooms, the school had a kitchen, four or five toilets and a principle room. The toilets were semi outdoor spaces attached to the side of some of the classrooms, including two urinals and one closeable Indian style toilet. On the school walls, curriculum and national slogans were painted in yellow. The school building seems to be replicated in government schools as we saw more of the same buildings along our road trips in Uttar Pradesh.