From Sukma bus stand, I get on a bus to reach this place called Lathipara, around 30 kilometres away from Sukma. The bus is moving dead slowly. After one and a half hour journey, I get down on the nearest stop. Now there is a 2-mile walk to Lathipara. On the way, it’s mostly paddy fields; also Mango and Mahua trees.
Lathipara is a small village that has less than 30 families, mainly Dhurva speaking tribes. Most of the families rely on rice cultivation. Apart from that, like many tribes in Bastar, their sustenance also revolves around non-timber forest produce a collection of mahua, tadi, salphi chind and tendu patta. But the interesting feature about Lathipara is that there is a primary school which is one among the 92,275 schools that are run by single teachers.
The Right to Education act clearly states that there should not be any single teacher school. It also directs states to have at least two teachers when the student strength is between one and sixty.
Even after ten years of the RTE act coming into effect, this is a distant dream. Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan put together comprise around 50% of the single teacher schools in the country.
Especially in primary classrooms when the pedagogy demands individual attention for each student, what they get is a unified way of teaching. Even the teachers in single teacher schools are muddled with a lot of work like teaching, administrative work, interacting with the education department, visiting treasury for fund collection, conducting meetings with parents, and so on. All these lead to less focus in teaching and then, later on, lead to substandard learning and multi-grade multi-level learning issues for children.
Here, 80 students from different grades are managed by a single teacher. Education completely becomes futile and farce. The competent issue here is that, in rural and remote areas where people are not willing to work, even getting teachers to teach is extremely hard. It is becoming physically and economically difficult. The age-old idea of providing schools where children live has to be brought back to fill the existing gap.
Lathipara school is located almost at the end of the village. I had to pass through several houses on a 5 feet road and fences made through big branches of trees. There is a hand-pump near the school entrance where the villagers come to collect water. There is a water tank inside the school that is powered by solar panels. The school has an electricity connection but there is no separate toilet for girls or boys nor is there water in the taps.
An Anganwadi operates from inside the school compound where smaller children, less than ten years of age, come. They don’t know to read or write and all of them speak their mother tongue Dhurva. The teacher in Lathipara school has been working here since 2005. She now has a good rapport with the community. Also, there is a woman from the same village who prepares mid-day meal for the children.
All the children I saw in Lathipara were so enthusiastic to study. Most of their uniforms were torn. A few had textbooks. Since all of them know each other, they are also playful at times. The majority of them don’t speak Hindi. But they are able to understand and respond to the teacher. They communicate in Dhurva in the classroom since their comfort lies there but the teacher consciously asks them to speak Hindi.
Three children of 5th standard in Lathipara school did match the level of 5th standard children in Portacabins of Sukma, in both the strengths and weaknesses; which made me realize that even though the environment of Portacabins and that of the single teacher schools is entirely different, they face the same challenges in learning. The advantage in single teacher school is the proximity to the parents and community.
This can be leveraged to spread awareness of the importance of education and give them ample push needed for the children to find time to study at home. As of now, there is less community engagement happening there and this can be a good next step.
The Lathipara school itself is ironic to the single teacher schools in the sense that it becomes both the problem and the solution. How the single teacher classrooms are a problem is being mentioned above but how the same thing becomes a solution is what makes it interesting. Since there are fewer children and reaching other schools require at least five-kilometre travel, the age-old solution on providing a school where twenty or more children are living is practically happening in Lathipara.
I wish to believe when this school was established in 1997, the aim was also the same. Now since opening another school is not a practical solution, the teacher’s capacity building is to be done. She should be taught how to give enough attention to differentiated learning among children.
With the help of rural NGOs which work in the area, improvements in the quality of education can be made possible. The issue is not isolated and simple. This is a matter concerning around one lakh schools around the nation and more than twenty lakh children enrolled in them. Hence, the state government should be taking more care to address the problem. Even these children have the right to get good quality education rather than education for namesake.