By Anwarul Hoda:
The decadal literacy difference for Bihar is second only to Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The literacy rate rose from 47 percent in the 2001 census to 61.80% in the 2011 census. However, all is not well with the schools in Bihar, as I learnt from my experience at a public school in a village in Khagaria district.
Bela Simri, a panchayat located in the east of Bihar is roughly 170 kilometres from Patna. Towards the end of this monsoon season, I was there, as the representative of a social enterprise called Reap Benefit. The enterprise primarily works on the issues of water, waste, energy, sanitation, and air. It first discovers the local issues and then investigates it so that it can give low cost and sustainable local solutions. Being a representative of the social enterprise, I did scoping of the schools to collect data and to know the problems these schools face.
The panchayat has around 5,729 voters and a large section of villagers are engaged in agricultural activities. There are four government schools under the panchayat.
An admirable thing in these schools is the enrolment ratio. The rate of girls’ enrolment is equal if not higher to that of boys. Even the average enrolment of students is above 500 in each school. However, all of these schools have more students than they can accommodate. Besides, the average number of teachers is between six to eight. And the student-teacher ratio varies between 70 to 100 students per teacher. The number of students may not be large but with the available infrastructure, the situation turns out to be bad.
As the school is in the rural area, there is no supply or storage facility for water. All needs of water are satisfied through hand pumps only. Water-filters and other measures to check the cleanliness of water isn’t available in any of the schools. However, in one of the schools, there was a filter for office use only. Even within the school, there are no water-pipes to the kitchen or the washroom.
The status of sanitation in the schools was also bad. Except for a few, most toilets were either in a dilapidated condition or required maintenance. In some of the schools, there were no toilets for the teaching-staff. Students were forced to carry mugs to toilets. When asked about the condition, the principal of a school replied that none of the schools have been provided with any cleaning staff. They themselves hire locals once a week for cleaning.
The schools generate most of their waste from the mid-day meal or food. There are dustbins made of plastic containers available to contain such wet waste, which is dumped behind the school. For dry waste, generally plastic and leaves, there is no separate dustbin, except in the offices. It is burnt outside the premises once collected. The sanitary waste, however, is cleaned by the hired worker who also takes the responsibility to clean the toilets. There is no provision for burning sanitary waste and it is also dumped at some distance from the school.
During the recent assembly election, each school was connected to electric poles and a metre was installed to show that each school is electrified. But a teacher at one of the schools said that neither wires nor fans or lights were provided.
No doubt the awareness for education is rapidly increasing in Bihar but the government is failing the public in providing even basic facilities in schools. The schools in the village appear well painted, but within its boundary, there aren’t even classrooms for the students.