The Right to Education Act may have pioneered a sort of revolution across schools in India, but simply bringing an act is not enough in inspiring children to make it a regular practice to attend their classes with utmost zeal. It requires an inspiring teacher like Pandit Vishnu Sharma, the author of the famous Panchatantra, the classic tales through which he used to impart practical and value-based education to the children of the King. As times changed, the tradition of teaching changed and slowly the art of teaching through storytelling faded whose space was taken by formal, curriculum based teaching. But the practice of educating through storytelling has still remained alive thanks to one individual.
Shiv Narain Singh, 52, principal of an intermediate college in the nondescript district of Deoria in Uttar Pradesh, is one such exemplary Vishnu Sharma of the modern day, who must have created a record of sorts. Although he has been into practice for over two decades, Singh has been telling his students a story every day for the past 15 years. In the last five years alone, he has told over a thousand narratives to his students. The stories are not new, but each carries a moral value, which is of use to students in their real lives. He is invited to other institutes as well, for story-telling. Sharma, who innovates to make his stories inspirational, is a recipient of a number of awards at the national and state level, including Bharti RatnaSamman by the National RajbhashaPeeth and the Teachers’ State Award in 2009.
Such is his influence that the students have made it a point to attend the morning-assembly regularly as they know fully well that they will get to hear an inspirational story from their principal. No wonder, the prayer-hall of the school, which has a strength of over 1,500 students, is always packed to the capacity, when Singh narrates the stories. Thanks to his decades-long practice of story-telling just before the commencement of classes (first period) that the school (Prestige Intermediate College) is known for its discipline and education all across the UP and some parts of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
Interestingly, not only the students, but the other teachers and staff of the school also listen to Singh in rapt attention during the session. The story narration normally lasts 10 to 12 minutes. The principal is so regular with his story telling that the students and others begin calling his home and sometimes even visit to enquire about his well-being on the rare day when he misses school due to illness or other preoccupation.
In his stories, Singh quotes heavily from the ancient Indian epics and gives numerous examples. He also cites Gautam Buddha, Jesus Christ and RamkrishnaParamhansa. Says Singh, “I pick up the theme from our age-old traditions and happenings of daily life and include them in my stories to give some concrete message to the students. I also draw inspiration from the ‘vedas’, and ‘upanishads’. All these stories instill a new confidence in us and provide us the guidelines to be followed in the life.”
Born in a modest farming family, the post-graduate in science is peeved at the present education system. Committed to bring a radical change in the system, Singh laments that the modern education does not in any way contribute towards the moral development of the students. “Education should make a student a good human being. Hence, my effort is to establish a communication with the students through inspirational messages so that they become good international citizens. I find stories are the best way to communicate with the children,” he opines.
But where did he get this kind of innovation from? Singh said that during his childhood his grandfather used to regularly tell him a story before he retired to bed. “His (grandfather) words used to be in my heart when I woke up in the morning”, he recounts. Needless to say, Singh’s stories force the students to ponder over what they want to do in their lives and they also apprise the students about their responsibilities towards society and the environment.
Singh has received hundreds of appreciation letters from the educationists, parents and politicians. His wife Shiva Singh also is a source of encouragement for him. Till now, ten volumes of his stories have been published, but interestingly, the volumes are not his writings. He says, “Some people, who were inspired by my stories, decided to record whenever I told a story and then compiled them and got them published in the form of books.”
“In fact, I was myself surprised when I heard my own utterances… I could not believe that it was I,” the teacher says.
On whether he makes preparation in advance for telling the stories, Singh says that even he does not know about the subject on which the day’s story will be based. “I only keep one thing in my mind that whatever I say must have a positive impact on the minds of the students,” says the modern-day Vishnu Sharma.