Today, it is deeply shocking that schools and colleges in Uttar-Pradesh are in complete mess. One does not blame to current regime but for the past 30 years systematic degradation has created a crisis in Uttar Pradesh where students are paying the biggest price. Many of them don’t understand that their political class is playing with their sentiments.
The classrooms and buildings do not exist. Science students do not know whether they have laboratories or not. Since the focus these days is to get every student promoted to the next higher class hence the curriculum is the biggest victim. Most of the private schools are run by the people who have close contacts to the local political leaders and their main aim is not to strengthen the quality of education but to make money.
These ‘shops’ are well known to students in the state who join these schools to pass the board examinations as the management has a ‘setting’ with the board officials and hence during the examination teachers help the students in solving their papers. Money is extracted from the students in advance and ‘help’ is provided to them when the time comes.
There are no building structures where students can sit. Most of them are actually made on the ‘funds’ received either through MPLADS (Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) or MPLADS. This is also an interesting case study that most of the MPLADS is actually given for the construction of building for ‘schools’ or colleges and the reason for this is simple.
If you apply for any work under the MPLADS then you have to submit a detailed plan by civil engineer along with approved budget but in the case of school's building construction, I am informed, you don’t need these approvals.
A letter from the ‘manager’ of the school or college with a request for funds is enough. Of course, there is a cut in everything hence MPLADS is also not free from all this and used by the power elite. Having your own schools and colleges give you enormous clout in the constituency and hence being used for political purposes. Nobody is bothered whether the schools or colleges have enough infrastructure or not.
As the government focuses on rhetoric and not really strengthening the school education in India, it has further resulted in birth of power elite in the villages. The people who have no concern for education and quality want to make money of this vacuum. These schools are nothing but shops and many parents if they are ‘rich’ even give schools in ‘dowry’ to their daughters.
At an inter college for girls in Deoria the principle sits with folded legs on her chair. In the moral classes, she gives the students ‘knowledge’ of how to be ‘good wives’ and girls are directed to keep fasting during navratras and girls are discouraged to smile and question.
Even the male teachers (a majority of the teachers at girls schools too are men and hence there is every possibility of violence and exploitation under the garb of ‘protection) beat up the girls mercilessly.
One of my colleague’s young daughter was beaten up and the male teacher actually slapped her and pulled her hair but the girl was brave and complained at home. Next day, the teachers were warned of grave action but the reality is that most of the girls don’t have the courage to speak at home or tell their parents about the victimization at their schools.
The parents too like the teachers who beat up students. The idea of teacher with a long cane who is ‘strict’ and ‘serious’ is idolized in many places.
The problem of cronyism is also common in such schools as it is destroying the future of young students. Mass copying is order of the day in many of these ‘centers’ which are ‘obtained’ with ‘due’ permission from the education department.
Similarly, ‘degree’ colleges have mushroomed in remote areas that are run in three rooms with teachers being paid not even the minimum wages. The fact is that you have to obtain a degree and then a Ph.D at any cost to own up a college.
After ‘social work’ people are ending up in having ‘colleges’ and schools just to destroy the life of the students. Their parents feel that the children are going to ‘English’ medium or better schools but at the end of the day the children are paying the price of this ‘understanding’.
On August 15, I visited a residential school in district Chandauli in Eastern Uttar-Pradesh. It had a beautiful campus and was located about 5 kilometer outside Chakia town and based on ‘ashram’ system. I don’t know what exactly that connotes but what gave me a pleasant surprise was the understanding of the students.
As a normal part of my interaction with students, I have been asking small questions of general importance to understand the level of their understanding and knowledge.
It was a great relief here that children knew about Helan Kelar, Stefan Hawkins as well as Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. The standard of the students was far ahead of the students, I had earlier interacted in recent months. Why so?
It is clear that the teachers at government colleges are much more qualified and experienced than in the private schools and hence if they really care and try to do things, the government schools and colleges would be much better.
Secondly, the infrastructure at government colleges though at many places dilapidated yet better than the private schools. They have play grounds and spacious rooms while the private colleges and schools do not have the same. It is therefore important to strengthen the government schools and colleges as it is the primary duty of the state to provide quality education to every student.
Whatever I am today, it is despite many inadequacies that I had faced in my life. I did my schooling from a very ordinary government school, passed my elementary schooling from the primary schools of local municipality and learnt English language only after the fifth standard in the government school. I don’t think it was that bad.
So, whose duty is to strengthen the government schools and why have people dissociated with them. Well, when the noble profession like teaching becomes a job of 9 to 5 then it is bound to affect. The teachers must enjoy teaching and must serve. They cannot just receive fat salaries and do nothing.
Today, the government teaching positions are a matter of envy for others as it has ample time to socialize with others. The teachers will have to earn respect and that is only possible if they actually teach the students and make efforts to bring them to schools. Unfortunately, at most of the government institutions, teachers do everything except teaching.
They have become ‘politicians’ who are ‘expert’ in everything thing and look down upon others who question them. On a visit to a Junior High School, I found two teachers, one peon and six students. The school was spacious but no effort was made to attract more students. The Headmistress claimed that the actual number of students were 50 but the fact was only 6 students were there and they were being provided mid-day meal cooked somewhere else.
Now, why shouldn’t the teachers try to impress upon parents to send their children to school. In villages, teachers are the people the villagers trust. It is possible if they take initiative.
And finally, my warning also for those who believe everything should be done by the state. We should see the danger also. Without ambiguity, I would say yes, education’s hardware must be provided by the state but the software must have supervision of independent committee directly responsible to state assemblies or Parliament.
It means that the government must provide infrastructure for schools but the syllabus must be decided by an independent committee and political parties should not be allowed to decide and change the curriculum every time to suit their political interests.
We cannot have ‘biographies’ of ‘great’ chief ministers and prime ministers in our curriculum. It is important that the curriculum focus on ‘spirit of inquiry’ and humanism. It must reflect wider diversity of the country which makes our students sensitivity to diverse traditions, languages, color, religious values of the people.
Above all, education must make students think and make them a better citizen of the world who at least respect our secular values enshrined in the constitution of India and promote the idea of a casteless, fearless, progressive humanist society.
(About the Author: Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist, who keeps traveling to the rural and tribal areas of India to understand the problems of underprivileged people. Some of the key areas of his interest are education, hunger, natural resources, Muslims, Dalits, women and humanism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)