Children have midday meal at Prathamik Vidyalaya in Bhuiyandih earlier this week. (Bhola Prasad)
Poonam Kumari is a fifth grader of Prathamik Vidyalaya in Nandnagar, in Jamshedpur’s fringes of Bhuiyandih, who makes do with class IV textbooks. She has never heard of a library or seen sports gear.
Sad but true, the government’s showpiece Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, has overlooked a fundamental flaw. Most government schools such as Poonam’s cradle lack the must-have provisions as stated by the RTE Act. To go for the jugular, there is simply no infrastructure, manpower or money to make it happen at least in the near future.
When the Supreme Court earlier this month upheld the constitutional validity of the RTE Act and mandated government, aided and non-minority unaided schools to reserve 25 per cent of seats for marginalised children, it raised a couple of embarrassing questions.
First, who will help iron out logistics bottlenecks faced by people like say, Poonam’s parents, if they wanted their daughter to take admission in a reputable private cradle?
Two, and more important, what is the use of well-meaning provisions in the RTE Act when most state-run cradles such as Prathamik Vidyalaya violate them on an everyday basis just because they can’t dream of having them?
This Jamshedpur school runs in a neighbourhood chock-a-block with cowsheds. It has 95 students on its rolls from classes I to V but only two teachers for all subjects. The RTE Act states there should be at least four teachers for students numbering between 91 to 120.
Students of classes I, II and III are crammed into one room, those of classes IV and V are crowded in the other. The school, despite having a two-storey building, locks up a couple of rooms probably because its two teachers can’t hop classrooms.
“We find it easier to teach students in the same class. We don’t require extra classrooms,” teacher Kumudini Kachchap said, demonstrating how she divided the blackboard into asymmetrical halves, one for class IV and the other for class V.
There is an open space, which can be loosely termed a playground for children. But there is no proper boundary wall or gate. Asked about a library, mandatory for any school under the RTE Act, teachers said they had “an almirah with a few books for children”.
But before children can afford the luxury of missing all kinds of books, they have to contend with parched throats.
The campus has one hand pump, which is mostly used by surrounding slum-dwellers.
And though the school has toilets, teachers alleged that goons had locked them up recently. After Ramnavami this year, somehow the toilets are unlocked, but very unclean.
No one wanted to get into the details. “We really have a tough time,” school in-charge and teacher Girish Chandra Roy said. “Slum dwellers are not cooperative and encroachment is rampant.”
He also listed out the problems such as lack of a proper boundary wall and gate, filthy surroundings, inadequate and unsafe drinking water, lack of textbooks.
This time, students will have to wait for months for new textbooks under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan as the state human resource development (HRD) department failed to finalise the tender to fix a printer on time.
“I am using the class IV book. There are no new books to study. So we manage somehow. We don’t know when we will get new textbooks,” fifth grader Rimjhim Kumari said, displaying a torn book.
District education department officials said they were “helpless”.
“Unless the state is active, we at the district administration level won’t be able to implement things smoothly,” said an official not wishing to be named.
Prakash Kumar, additional district programme officer and a member of the RTE cell, added: “We know there are problems. Students are crammed into one class due to shortage of teachers and thus RTE Act requirements stay unmet. We are trying to mend matters,” he said.
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