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Pen, postcards & patience win a teacher

Jaipur, Feb. 12: In this e-age, the pen can still be a potent weapon.

The good old writing instrument, mightier than a sword in the hands of the right user, found a band of little champions who recently used it to telling effect. They got education authorities in Rajasthan to appoint a teacher for their school.

They didn’t write emails, though laptops are being given to meritorious students to become e-savvy. They just posted postcards, hundreds of them.

It took longer, yes. Postcards, after all, don’t reach the receiver at the click of the mouse. But they persevered. And it paid off.

The authorities soon sent a teacher to the school. “Initially, we were stumped after receiving so many postcards from students requesting us for a teacher,” district education officer Shivcharan Meena told The Telegraph.

“We keep receiving requests from school officials. This was the first time students themselves wrote in such large numbers. Students are hardly bothered whether teachers come or not. In my knowledge, this was the first school where it seemed the students genuinely wanted to study.”

Unwittingly, perhaps, the students of Rajkiya Uchch Prathimik School, a government school in Viratnagar, 75km from Jaipur, also struck a blow for a dying art: the practice of writing letters — part of the curricula in some schools but rarely followed in this age of lighting electronic communication — and posting them.

The students had been really fed up. For over two years, the school, which has over 100 students and eight classes, had only three teachers, when it should ideally have six. School officials said if one teacher was absent, it was difficult for the other two to manage the eight classes.

“We came to the school but at times there were no teachers,” said Bhuvan, a student of Class VIII. “So we just played and went home. At first we didn’t know how to solve the problem but then put our heads together. Writing letters and pleading seemed the only way to catch the attention of officials. That is when we decided to write letters to education officials in Jaipur.”

So, about a couple of months back, the kids wrote hundreds of postcards. When the officials realised how desperate they were for a teacher, they decided to send one immediately despite shortage of teaching staff.

“We recruited one teacher for the school, making the children happy and feel important, despite a perpetual shortage,” Meena said.

According to the Annual Status of Education Report for 2011-12, Rajasthan needs about 70,000 teachers to meet Right to Education Act (RTE) standards.

The state has over four lakh teachers in 49,853 primary schools, 51,955 upper primary schools, 15,503 secondary schools and 8,144 senior secondary schools. The report said 52 per cent schools in the state did not have the RTE-recommended student-teacher ratio of 6:1.

The skewed ratio, coupled with chronic problems like lack of electricity and toilets, had resulted in high dropout rates and stagnant enrolment, officials said.

According to a survey by the Social Research Policy Institute (SPRI), the student-teacher ratio in government schools varies between 58:1 and 16:1. “The casualty is the child, who, in the absence of a proper child-teacher ratio, is neglected or does not receive personal touch in the classroom,” said SPRI director Sudhir Varma.

Manish Tiwari, joint director, SPRI, added: “In some schools, the number of teachers far exceeds the requirement. In such cases, teachers’ talents go waste with considerable loss of human resource.”

A recent report by Pratham, an NGO, said basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills had declined among Rajasthan’s school students, though the state received a grant of Rs 3,592 crore in 2011-12, higher than the Rs 3,016 crore it got in 2010-11.

Last year, the Ashok Gehlot government had announced a Rs 70-crore scheme to award laptops to students who figure among the top 10,000 in the state’s secondary and senior secondary board exams.

According to the scheme, announced during the budget, special learning laptops were to be awarded to also those who topped the Class VIII exams in all the 24,000 government schools across the state.

The 44,000 meritorious students are still waiting for their laptops.