Decimating all the hurdles that could have stopped the endless run for excellence and creating a meaningful life, this Tinsukia born lady, Manobi Das Deka came up with a play school start-up with the aim of providing Sparsh a tender touch (as the name denotes) to the tiny tots in their initial phase of life so that they can gear up for the future. A mother of two, Manobi relates her upbringing with her children’s and with others’ children, and that is how she moves forward in taking Sparsh, a pre-school ahead – addressing all the minute details that other parents would consider as crucial & she, herself, finds them important for her children.
This ten year old play school has come miles en route to good education. But you can’t bet that it was an easy path. She started, struggled, hitched, stumbled, rose up and kept moving. Let us hear out her story.
Tell us a bit about the days before Sparsh happened to you.
My career in teaching began (even before I finished my studies) as a solution to have the financial security to support my education. Coming from a business family, I had a comfortable childhood and good education in one of the best performing schools of Tinsukia until my father was keeping well. Thereafter, a long grey phase crept into our lives when his health deteriorated, consequently demanding my mother’s (a homemaker) lead in all aspects of sustenance. She spearheaded the household, our education, and business to an extent.
I got a sports scholarship for HSC studies, further to which I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but the financial stress swept it and I opted for Bachelor of Arts, in Tinsukia College. While I was preparing for B.A. finals, I got an offer from the Vivekananada Kendra Vidyalaya, Tinsukia, where I’d studied. Seven months of teaching the play school students was a great experience. I used to save money by walking, and developed corns under my feet. In 1999, I came to Guwahati for higher studies and I joined Cotton College with the savings I had from my pocket money. Half of my money was gone in the non-refundable fee for admission into Handique College, as I enrolled there initially before Cotton’s exam took place. So, I was left with a bare minimum sum for admission yet nothing for buying books and conveyance. I worked part time as a sales girl for trade fairs to earn the sum and support my studies. I enrolled in a coaching institute. To have a constant flow of income to support daily expenses, I started teaching.
I was staying with my cousins who were immensely supportive. My first trial for UGC was good so I thought of preparing well, but I never wanted any monetary help from them. Additionally, I thought that a hostel would be a better place to concentrate so I discussed it with the Amway India Pvt. Ltd. team, where I was working as a Product Trainer (part time) simultaneously, who assured me a hike the following year to be able to afford a hostel.
Meanwhile, my parents insisted for a wedding proposal as I was the eldest daughter of three children. At the same time, I got an offer in V.K.V. in Dibrugarh as a Higher Secondary English Teacher. My students were just five years younger; hence, I was scared and careful all the time. I wore saree to look mature and be respected as a teacher. I didn’t have many sarees, but I managed.
I used to hop on and off the public buses (with the ones Rs 10 for one trip instead of 18) to commute to the school that was 34kms away from home. Throughout my journey, I used to study to be ready for teaching. I also continued with Amway, and managed my stage-fright, by interacting with 500-600 people, one time. I gained a lot of confidence in the due course.
As post marriage, I was to be settled in Guwahati, I started applying for jobs and got lucky with an opportunity in DPS, which was about to be launched. My wedding was on 20th of April and the school was inaugurated on 21st, which was also my joining date. The principal was aware of my plight, but he advised to come over for an hour to join this historic moment. My experience in DPS has been worth treasuring. I left it as I conceived. When came to rejoin, Sparsh happened.
My entire story indicates blessings in disguise. Had I been well off throughout, then I wouldn’t have had such opportunities to learn & gather courage. I overcame my apprehensions of being pushed into no-way-out kind of situations.
How did Sparsh come into existence?
The first branch of Delhi Public School in Guwahati was established in the year 2003 by Gyan Sarovar Foundation, an Educational Trust created by a few eminent businessmen of Guwahati, at Ahom Gaon situated about 17 kilometres south-west of Guwahati city. Towards 2006, the Board members came with an idea of having a chain of pre-schools at different locations in Guwahati on a partnership basis, so that the young children can avail their formative education near to their home so that they are relieved from travelling the long distance and also to smoothen the process of their passage to the class I on completion of the pre-school tenure.
I came forward to collaborate with Gyan Sarovar Foundation to launch the school as proposed, and this was how the Sparsh group of Montessori schools came into being effective 2007 with the first branch of the School at Zoo-Narengi Road established by me as the Headmistress. It was inaugurated by Haider Hussain, Chief Editor of Pratidin; Dolly Bora, the then Mayor of Guwahati; and Mr. Kailash Lohia, Pro Vice-Chairman of the Gyansarovar Foundation. The Second branch was established in Six Mile which was also later handed over to me.
The name ‘SPARSH’ was coined by Shrimati Chandralekha Rawat, Principal, Delhi Public School, Guwahati, which signifies ‘Tender Touch’ in imparting formative education to the tiny tots.
The School celebrated its Five Year Excellence in 2013 with a colourful programme of song and dance mostly performed by the students, parents and the teachers. The same year, we also got our trademark certificate, followed by the R (regulatory compliance) certificate after a few years. Depending on the success, Sparsh has launched its primary section named ‘Sparsh High’ with effect from 2013, at the campus of Zoo-Narengi Road which has now become a full-fledged primary school having classes up to standard V. We grieve the fact for not having the support of Gyan Sarovar Foundation with us, so we decided to approach resourceful senior citizens of Assam to lend a hand of guidance. They wholeheartedly agreed to volunteer, and their guidance has helped us steer through these times.
What hurdles you had to go through initially? Where did you pull the funds from?
Yes, primarily there were apprehensions about my job, schedule, and financial security. But I was confident enough to cope up. In case of Sparsh, initially, I had to do a lot of homework in terms of establishing the brand name; assessing the market and its value; promoting it; preparing a curriculum; et cetera.
We also faced a lot of apprehensions in the beginning, since there are established competitors who guarantee continuation to higher classes, while we have classes until fifth grade.
Why you chose to be in the education industry over other trades?
It has been 18 years of teaching so far & I’m delighted with it. There are no critical thoughts about other professions, but I strongly feel that one learns every day while teaching and multiplies the wisdom. I haven’t become a teacher by chance; but by choice. By choice, I have been in the education sector for a decade now.
Early childhood care and development is another aspect that catalysed my choice as it plays a crucial role in shaping a child’s future. The developmental activities during the initial years can make or mar the prospect of a child.
Lot imbalances in the mental and physical health afflict a child in the initial years, and if we don’t take necessary care during their early phase, then their developments are unlikely. Approximately, one of 80 children is autistic, and the sad part is, there is hardly a miniscule point of awareness about it. However, if a favourable environment is created for them, they can be treated and cured.
This aligns with my ambitions as I’m looking at their growth and development (from a holistic point of view) as my way towards the self contentment.
Which other organizations you have collaborated with to support your goals?
We are working with NIPCCD (National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development) in order to take care of the special needs of the children.
What methodology does Sparsh follow in achieving what it envisions and aims to?
Sparsh is consistently trying to impart quality education to the budding talents, combined with multifarious programs of child education, such as learning by doing, value education, nature study, know your country, etc. in addition to academics and co-curricular activities keeping in view the objective of men making and nation building. The process of learning is like an ever flowing river bedecked with the opportunity of applying new methods of teaching to cater to the needs of the changing times & the environment. Our primary aim is to make them culturally sound: being aware of the history and beauty of the land; and exposure to the real situations so as to have a clear perception. This is what, breathes through generations. Secondly, we ensure that discipline is maintained in all aspects to ensure quality learning, like the more you take care of the sapling, better it grows as a tree. Learning by seeing and doing is more effective than reading. Therefore, we celebrate each and every festival. These days adults go out for having a good time during the festivals due to which the authentic roots fall behind. We ensure that children know about the festivals, to promote secular feelings. We also conduct quarterly parents-teachers meetings. Wherein we discuss the developments of a child’s attitude and learning meticulously, and advise the parents to listen and spend some time with their children to make them feel important and secure.
Long back, I had started an art school at Sparsh branch, with a handful of children, but now we have 90. It runs under the guidance of a famous speed artist of Mercedes launch, and (Kings XI, Punjab) IPL Fame, Robin Bar. We also participate in different events to promote the talent.
Additionally, we also support under-privileged children. Every year on Children’s Day, we collect funds by selling, handicrafts; food, etc. prepared by parents and teachers, in a mela and donate it. Last year, we donated the funds to Shishu Kalyan Sadan, Jalukbari; Street Children School run by Rotary Club; and to an NGO namely, “HOPE”.
Tell us about the guiding team that has been serving as the backbone of the school.
Sparsh is privileged to have the team of three learned gentlemen as members of its Advisory Board. They are Prof Udayan Mishra, HOD, Department of English, Dibrugarh university (Retd), Mr Sawpon Dowerah, presently Rector, ICON Commerce college, Guwahati and Mr Tosheswar Saikia, Head of HR Functions, Indian Oil Corpn (Assam Oil Division) Digboi (Retd). Happy to mention, at no time the school is ever deprived of their mature guidance and advises in the matter of child education, School administration, problem solving and developmental aspects etc. For example, Sparsh had to recently undergo certain reorganization and this went off very smoothly mainly due to their astute leadership skills and wide experiences to steer through the process.
After all, Sparsh is basically an all women’s institution facing operational limitations at times. I have no hesitation to say, that the acceptability of Sparsh as one of the front ranking Institution for child education is largely due to the presence of the aforesaid three senior gentlemen amongst us.
How do you extend an arm towards women empowerment?
Except for three drivers and one accountant, entire teaching staff consists of women faculty only. The reason behind this is that, we want to give the warmth of a mother through the teachings of a teacher, which any male wouldn’t be able to provide.
This is why there are more female teachers than males in the primary schools.
What are your plans expanding Sparsh?
Sparsh is going to complete ten years of its existence as a front runner in the field of formative child education and development during this year. The School celebrated its five years of excellence in 2013 with pomp and grandeur. Based on its achievement, Sparsh has launched its Primary section up to V, because we firmly believe that formative child education need to continue till class V uninterrupted to make the foundation stronger.
Meanwhile, we have been receiving feelers from interested parties about expansion either by ourselves or on a franchisee basis not only in Guwahati but elsewhere like Dibrugarh. The School’s Advisory Board is in favour of the plan in principle subject to excercising proper control mechanism to maintain the standard of education being pursued by Sparsh coupled with necessary resource mobilization as well as for spreading the concept of pre-school education combining with primary education up to class V.
We are moving in this direction.