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Mrs. Anutai Wagh
Anutai Wagh’s life is an inspiration in many ways. She was married early and widowed in less than six months at age thirteen. Given the customs of her time, Anutai had very little to look forward to in life.
Fortunately, with support and encouragement from her family, Anutai resumed her education. She stood first in the Vernacular Final exam in 1925. She then completed the Primary Teacher’s Certificate course at the Women’s Training College in Pune in 1929.
Between 1929 and 1933, Anutai taught at a village school in Chandwad Taluka in Nashik District. It was not easy. There was strong opposition to educating girls and Anutai faced considerable hostility. But she persevered. She refused to make any distinction between men and women and addressed both as gender-neutral ‘friends’.
In 1933, Anutai Wagh joined the well-known Huzurpaga School in Pune. She worked there for eleven years during which time, in addition to her teaching duties, she was responsible for managing the library, the annual souvenir and school events. Anutai’s interest in child education was aroused when she came upon a copy of ‘Shikshan Patrika (Education Newsletter)’, a monthly magazine published by Tarabai Modak.
Anutai did not allow her job to come in the way of her education. She enrolled in the Huzurpaga Night School and completed her matriculation in 1937. She completed her graduation in 1961, when she was 51 determined to finish despite the cataracts in her eyes
In 1945 Anutai met Tarabai Modak who asked her if she was willing to work among the tribals in Palghar. Tarabai was planning to start an experimental school for tribal children. Anutai said yes, a decision which set the course for the rest of her life.
Anutai began her work in the Bordi – Kosbad area (in Dahanu taluka, Palghar). With Tarabai Modak, she set up a Balwadi (playschool) in a thickly forested tribal area in Bordi. There was no road, electricity or any kind of communication. But need overrode inconveniences. There were eight tribal hamlets nearby and about a hundred children in need of an education. The school was inaugurated by B G Kher, Chief Minister of the then Bombay Presidency on December 24, 1945. The centre moved to its present location in Kosbad Hill in 1957.
Overcoming the tribals’ reluctance to send their children to school was a challenge. Anutai would go to the children’s homes, bring them to school, wash them, feed them and drop them back to their houses. Eventually, she used a bullock cart to transport the children.
Anutai’s followed Gijubhai Badheka’s approach and methods for teaching the children, playing and singing with them, telling them stories and helping them to learn from their surroundings. She spared no effort to ensure that the children attended school regularly. When she found that the reason for high absenteeism in the months of February to June was that there was no food to eat in the children’s homes, Anutai arranged to feed them in the school. Thus, was born the Anganwadi concept, central to India’s Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
Anutai led from the front and set an example for her co-workers with her commitment and hard work and dedication. She was completely immersed in her mission. Over time, the ‘Gram Bal Shiksha Kendra’, which started as a play school for tribal children has evolved into a center known for its experiments and innovations to provide meaningful education to children. It has developed inexpensive educational aids from locally available material. Even today, it attracts experts and serious students of education from across India and many countries.
Anutai was the recipient of several honors with some of the most significant being the Padma Shri, Jamnalal Bajaj Award and the FIE Foundation Prize.
In 1982, the last decade of her life, Anutai co-founded Grammangal with Ramesh Panse. In the thirty- five years since, Grammangal has grown from strength to strength enriching the learning of ever increasing numbers of school children in Maharashtra and outside.
“.....the emergence of new approaches to learning that draw upon a range of insights into the human brain, the functioning of human societies, and learning as a community-wide activity” - from the 21st Century Learning Initiative(www.21learn.org)