Early in the morning, we set out to meet our friends, all dressed up
To meet our friends, we venture far from home
We can’t be stopped, we forge ahead
We roar like the clouds, pour down like the rain, and shine brightly like the sun
— we’re off to school…oho.. ho oho..ho ho…ho ho
The first time I heard this song, I was lying on a tarp, using my backpack for a pillow, and staring up at the Madhya Pradesh stars. The air was crisp, moonlight illuminated the village. Two tractors were parked close-by with music ringing from a sound system. At nearly 11 pm, I could barely keep my eyes open, but dinner was just being served. Surrounding me were villagers, colleagues, and kiddos humming a familial welcome as they gathered with their plates. Tabish, also using a backpack pile for a make-shift bed, looked at me when this song came on, and said “Jessie – listen to this song – this will always be my favorite song.”
In the coming weeks, I heard school chale hum on loop as our “hello” to every village.
School Chale Hum was released by the central government as the campaign tune for an initiative called Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) to universalize primary education in the early 2000s. The music video shows beautiful imagery of students from Kashmir to Kerala running to school; it unites India under the collective goal of primary education.
As an AIF Clinton Fellow, I am working with TYCIA Foundation, an education nonprofit based in New Delhi, India. Much of my work has focused on our education programming in Khandwa District, Madhya Pradesh — in just the last few years my host organization has brought nearly 4,000 out-of-school children into government schools across 60 villages. While visiting these villages, it has been clear what a massive feat this enrollment campaign has been. The geography is difficult. When it rains many villages are cut off and roads are unusable. In summers, the heat is dangerous. Many of the villages are very remote, with little industry, and often, limited cell network, internet access, or power supply. And yet, this 15-year-old campaign song is well known throughout the region.
In many ways the SSA scheme was a success; according to The Economic Times, the SSA Scheme significantly expanded access to elementary level education by opening 2.04 lakh (204,000) primary and 1.59 lakh (159,000) upper primary schools across the country. Nearly 20 years after the scheme began, it is not uncommon to walk into a village and see the phrase स्कूल चलें हम (let’s go to school) scribbled on the side of a building.
It struck me how Pramila, a program manager at TYCIA, would play school chale hum loudly, as we drove through the villages. She would play the song on repeat, making sure children and their families would hear. The song is a tool for our current work; it is as relevant as ever. In 2018, the Government of Madhya Pradesh released an updated version of the song to inspire students to go to school, and many articles continue to reference the phrase school chale hum (Choudhari 2020; Tribune India 2020). Despite the number of schools built under the scheme and increased enrollment, I’d argue that the most significant success has been the long lasting message of the SSA scheme’s campaign song.
स्कूल चलें हम – Let’s go to school.
When I see kids dance and sing along, I think they are actually shouting to the world,
“My future is full of possibilities!”
That belief is half the battle.
Special thanks to Pallavi Deshpande for help with translation.
Amarendra Das. “How Far Have We Come in Sarva Siksha Abhiyan?” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 42, no. 1, 2007, pp. 21–23. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4419104. Accessed 25 May 2020.
Choudhari, Abhishek. “School Chale Hum: Nagpur Principals’ Association to Study Delhi Schools Success Model: Nagpur News – Times of India.” The Times of India, 24 Feb. 2020, timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/school-chale-hum-nagpur-principals-association-to-study-delhi-schools-success-model/articleshow/74273916.cms.
“In Kashmir, School Chale Hum, after 7 Months.” Tribune India, 8 Mar. 2020, www.tribuneindia.com/news/features/school-chale-hum-after-7-months-52706.
“School Chale Hum” Youtube, uploaded by bbpfilms, 1 August 2006, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpc-jGZkbAk
“School Chale Hum 2018 (Madhya Pradesh) | Shaan | Jyotica Tangri | P Narahari | Rishikesh Pandey”YouTube, uploaded by P Narahari IAS, 29 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhkEhTqFjgM
“Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 3.63 Lakh Schools.” The Economic Times, Economic Times, 21 Nov. 2016, economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/sarva-shiksha-abhiyan-in-3-63-lakh-schools/articleshow/55539179.cms?from=mdr.