Children of a Ranchi government middle school, one of the many cradles facing acute textbook crunch. (Prashant Mitra)
They say it helps if you have friends in high places but middle school students in the state will tell you it actually means higher classes.
Faced with an acute textbook crisis, students of government-run middle schools have no other option but to rely on hand-me-downs of their seniors.
Take the case of Arshad Ansari, a Class VII student of the Government Middle School in Ranchi’s Kantatoli. He wants to study in the evenings, but he can’t. Even three months after classes began in the new session, he is still waiting for his books.
Slightly luckier is Class VI student of a Kokar school Vikas Kumar. He has managed to procure some books from his seniors and the second-hand tomes have come as a boon not only for him but also his friends who he shares them with everyday.
Arshad and Vikas’ stories sum up the collective plight of nearly 40 lakh students of 40,000 primary and middle schools across Jharkhand. Inordinate delay in printing and distribution of textbooks has adversely affected their studies, though old textbooks secured from students who have passed out the only saving grace.
“I am still waiting for my books. Till I get them, I am just wasting my time in the evening,” rued Arshad, as his classmate Aslam seconded him.
According to Sarva Sikshya Abhiyan, the state government has to provide free textbooks to nearly 40 lakh students studying from Class I to VIII. These books should have reached the children by March 25 when the new session began. However, except a handful of children in Class II and V, the rest of the students are yet to see them.
“Everyday, I lend two of my books to two friends. In class too, the old books that I have managed to get from a senior is shared by many of us,” said Vikas, showing of his precious booty of Hindi, English, Sanskrit and mathematics books.
The figures in Vikas’s Kokar school is telling. Of the 569 students enrolled, only 100 have managed to get old books, while the rest have none. Similarly, of Kantatoli middle school’s 558 students, the majority of students have no books — old or new.
A week ago, the state managed to reach 15 to 20 sets of books for children of Class II and Class V in these schools. For the others, the wait continues.
“We have no option but to manage with the few old books and the handful of new books that have been distributed. We do not know when the rest of the children would get books,” said a teacher of the middle school in Kantatoli.
Though the tender process to select printers of textbooks began in September last year, it ended in two tenders being cancelled before a third issued on March 28 this year zeroed in on a printer. The work order was issued on May 2.
Though the state government is confident that the textbooks will reach the children by mid-July, sources in the human resources development (HRD) department begged to differ. Their contention is that it will be at least August before all 40 lakh children get their books.
“A few textbooks have reached the children. We believe all will get books in the next 15-20 days,” HRD minister Baidyanath Ram claimed, adding that former primary education director D.K. Saxena was removed from his post due to the inordinate delay in the tender process.
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, which is also the national monitoring agency for Right to Education Act, and had conducted a public hearing in the state capital on the rights of children in Jharkhand, meanwhile, is learnt to have taken the delay seriously.
“NCPCR has directed me to soon submit a report. I am doing that now so that the Commission can direct the state government to develop a mechanism to print textbooks well before new session begins,” said Ganesh Reddy, Jharkhand representative of NCPCR.