Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan in the seed warehouse at the beginning
Meenatai Mahamuni--one of the first teachers at Apli Shala
An office bearer from Karuna Trust that funded the Apli Shala building
Dr. Berntsen doing the survey of the slum area of Mangalwar Peth
Ready for the first trip of Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan (1988)
The work of the Pragat Shikshan Sanstha (PSS) was started in 1978 by Maxine Berntsen who had come to India to do fieldwork for her dissertation on social variation in the Marathi speech of Phaltan. While doing her linguistic research she developed an interest in school education and began writing articles in English and Marathi in newspapers and periodicals, advocating the use of the regional language as the medium of instruction.
Maxine Berntsen started a literacy class for out-of-school children in the underprivileged area of Phaltan town. Gradually the focus changed to enrolling these children in municipal school and helping them stay there and succeed. The enrollment effort included conducting surveys to identify school-age children, helping parents to procure admission forms and birth certificates, and providing school supplies.
In order to help children succeed in school, supplementary classes for standards one to seven were started, along with two balwadis (pre-primary classes). Recognizing that the health of the children and their parents was a crucial factor in school retention, medical assistance was provided when necessary. This programme was given the name Apli Shala (Our School).
In 1984 Pragat Shikshan Sanstha was registered under both the Societies Registration Act of 1860 and the Bombay Public Trust Act of 1950.
Dr. Berntsen soon realized that children across all strata of the community were deprived of good, joyous education. This belief was further strengthened by a complete refusal of her friend’s grand-daughter to go to a kindergarten after the first day. And so a full time, Marathi medium school, the Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan (KNB) was started in 1986.
Dr. Berntsen firmly believed that strengthening government schools was the way to realizing the dream of quality education for all and, therefore, in 1992, under our Educational Outreach Programme, we began working with both municipal and Zilla Parishad schools. The focus was to improve teaching of early reading and writing in the first standard.
To further strengthen this effort, a Centre for Language, Literacy and Communication (CLLC) was established in 2007. The primary goal of this programme was capacity building of groups and individuals from amongst the community of educators. This included promoting research and development of relevant and useful teaching materials as well as innovative teaching practices and translations of some of the seminal works of researchers and educators from other parts of the world that was relevant to the Indian context, in order to enhance the theoretical foundations of some of the traditional as well as contemporary teaching practices.