By Gladson Dungdung
Tehelka 26 September, 2008
The dismal state of school education in the tribal state of Jharkhand.
It is 11 am. 12 year-old Sushil and his friends are playing “pitto” (a local game) in the school premises. They are studying in class 6 at Manikdih Middle School of Latehar district in Jharkhand, supposed to follow a 10 to 6 time table. 137 children of adjoining villages are enrolled in the school. It has a provision of 3 teachers. But only two teachers are posted in the school and one position is still vacant. In the last year, children received the books four months before their final exams. The teachers are also uncomfortable with the way school functions but they are helpless. Their hopes lie on the midday meal, the only reason for children to go to school.
The school also has a village education committee consisting of 15 members, formed in 2005, assigned to oversee the running of the school. But the committee is also defunct. The chairperson of the committee, Kripal Singh says that the members are just not interested and only 5-6 members turn up in the meetings. Consequently, it has lost the legitimacy. Though the villagers are not happy with the Khichidi (mixed rice) their children are being served in the school, they fear having to forgo even this if they question authorities.
This is the norm rather than exception among government schools in Jharkhand. The spirit of the right to education is left to die in spite of the central and the state governments spending a lot of money. The ‘Total Literacy Programme’ is the most well-known government-sponsored education programme, which universalises elementary education at the district level encouraging community ownership of the school system. The programme is being implemented by the Jharkhand Education Project Council in all 24 districts of the state but there is little to show for it apart from the Khichidi.
The education system began to falter in 2002 when the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) was first introduced here. The latest status report of the government says 40 lakh children did not get their books in time. But 80 to 90 percent children still secured good marks and several schools had all their students passing their exams. But, are good marks all that the children need to survive in an increasingly competitive world?
While there is a hue and cry about unemployment, the status report shows that 26 thousand teaching positions in the state are still vacant, 22 thousand of these are in primary schools, the rest in high schools. Incidentally, the report states that 80 percent schools also do not have head teachers. Among the 3 lakh children who dropped out from schools, 2 lakh did so in primary school, the rest after matriculation. The major reasons for dropout are lack of livelihood, the uncertainty, and lack of money for admission, books, and tuition fees.
Basic facilities are absent in 13,000 government schools of the state. Out of these 5000 schools lack the basic requirements, 2000 schools do not have own school buildings and are either run in private buildings, community halls or Panchayat buildings. 6000 schools even lack the drinking water and toilet facilities. The education minister of Jharkhand, Bandhu Tirkey says that the government is working hard to provide the basic facilities to the schools but the efforts are yet to bear fruit.
Under these circumstances, how can the poor children compete with the kids of public schools? The present education system is widening of inequality among the children, which is a severe threat to the society. The ministers, bureaucrats and teachers are not serious in improving the quality of the government schools because their kids do not study in these schools.
The government hoped to use the total literacy programme to achieve universal elementary education—an opportunity to promote social justice through basic education in the country. But even the midday meal could not bring 4 lakh child labourers to school. A lakh of these have never been to school.
The dual education system– one catering to the elites, another to the poor –is what afflicts the government schools. The Kothari Commission (1964-66), had introduced the concept of a common school system to address the issues but it was never implemented. This is despite the Parliament declaring its commitment to stick to the recommendations.
The common school system would only pave the way in improving the quality education in the government schools, where the kids of the ministers, bureaucrats, teachers, government officials and the poor study, play and eat together. This would be the first step well-taken towards an egalitarian society.
Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist associated with the “Child Rights and You”. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org