Playing with the future

By Gladson Dungdung
28 July, 2008

It was 11 O’clock in the morning. 12 years old Sushil and his friends were playing “Pitto” (local game) in the school premises. They study in class 6th at Manikdih middle school of Latehar district in Jharkhand, which starts at 10 AM and gets closed at 4 PM. 137 children of adjoining villages are getting education in the school. It has a provision of 3 teachers to educate the children of class one to seven. But only two teachers are posted in the school and one post is still vacant. In the last year, children had received the books four months before their final exam. The teachers are also uncomfortable with the way school is running but they are helpless. Their hopes lay only on the midday meal, which helps them to bring children to the school so that the attendance can be maintained properly.
The school also has a village education committee consisting of 15 members, formed in 2005, which prior responsibility is to monitor the school. But the committee is also defunct. The chairperson of the committee, Kripal Singh says that the members are not having interest on the matters and merely 5-6 members’ turn up in the meetings. Consequently, it has lost the legitimacy. Though the villagers are not quite happy with the Khichidi (mixed rice), their children are being served in the school but they assume that the raising questions against the authorities may result in deprivation of their children from Khichidi.
This is not an isolated case of Manikdih Middle School but it shows a clear picture that how the government schools are functioning in Jharkhand. The spirit of the right to education is left to die though the central and the state governments are making huge investment in the name of education at the grassroots. The ‘Total Literacy Programme’ is the most populous government sponsored education programme, which universalizes elementary education through district based, decentralized specific planning and implementation strategy by 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 the efforts have not gone beyond the Khichidi education, which will never serve the purposes.
The degradation of the education system had begun with the introduction of the CBSC patters in the state in 2002. The state government was not able to provide books to the children in time. According to the latest status report of the government, 40 lakhs children did not get their books in time. But ironically, the results are otherwise. The results show that the 80 to 90 percent children secured good marks and even there are 100 percent results in many schools. But the fundamental questions are what will children do with these results in the competitive world? Are we not playing with the future of children? And who is responsible for it?
Ironically, there is a hue and cry about the unemployment but the status report shows that 26 thousands posts of teachers are vacant in the state. Among these, 22 thousand posts are about Primary Schools and 4 thousand posts are vacant in high schools. Interestingly, the report states that the 80 percent schools are also running without the head teachers. The status of drop out children is so high in the state. 3 lakh children dropped out from the schools. Among them 2 lakh children disserted their schools in primary level and 1 lakh children left studies after the matriculation. The major reasons for dropout are lack of livelihood, uncertainty of the future in Khichidi schools and lack of money for admission, books, and tuition fees.
According to the status report, the 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 either run in private buildings, community halls or Panchayat buildings and 6000 schools even lack the drinking water and toilet facilities. The education minister of Jharkhand, Bandhu Tirkey says that the government is putting hard work to provide the basic facilities to the schools but the government initiatives need more times.
In these circumstances, how can the poor children compete with the kids of public schools? The present education system is facilitating towards the widening of inequality among the children, which is a severe threat to the society. The minister, the bureaucrats and the government officials including teachers are not much serious in improving the quality of the government schools only because their kids do not study in these schools.
Though the government coins the total literacy programme as a clear time frame for universal elementary education, a response to the demand for quality basic education and an opportunity for promoting social justice through basic education in the country but the status of Jharkhand shows that the midday meal also could not attract those 4 lakh children towards the schools who are engaged as child labourers in the state and out of them 1 lakh children have never been to school.
The major question arises is do we have any mechanism to address the issues of education? Since, the root cause lies in the dual education system, where there are two types of schools – one for the elites and another for the poor children therefore the quality of the government schools can not be improved until the dual education system is changed. The Kothari Commission (1964-66), had introduced the concept of the common school system to address the issues but it was never implemented though the parliament had committed for its implementation in the education policies.
The common school system will 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 would study, play and eat together. Obviously, the bigwigs would never allow their children to be engaged with the poor children but the state has no other choices if it wishes to establish equality in the society through the education as it envisages through the total literacy mission.

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist associated with the “Child Rights and You”. He can be contacted at gladsonhrights@gmail.com