Messy Education

23 March 2015
Kashmir Life
Saima Bhat

Srinagar: Surrounded and dwarfed by castle like houses on three sides Girls Government High School Hyderpora is perhaps the best reflection of Kashmir's ailing education system. There are two buildings in the compound comprising 26 rooms in total. And from these 26 rooms three High Schools are operated at present. They include: Girls High School Hyderpora, Boys High School Hyderpora and Girls High School Barzullah. Originally there was just a girl's middle school housed in this building which later got upgraded to the level of High School some years back. There is an interesting story related to its up-gradation. It is said that once an official from Directorate of Education was passing by, who made an unexpected stopover at the Hyderpora School. He failed to read the rusted signboard outside the school and took it for some private institute. What he saw inside shocked him and he instantly ordered for its de-recognition. 'The staff room of this school was neatly furnished with wall-to-wall décor. And a dry fruit container was placed in the middle of the room which was passed between the teachers. All the teachers were sitting in the groups of twos and threes discussing fashion, marital issues and latest tv shows. The staffroom looked like a drawing room of any well-off household,' said an official who was accompanying the inspecting officer. The inspecting officer was told that he has no authority to cancel this schools affiliation as it is a government school and not a private one as he had perceived wrongly. Later that year this school was upgraded to a high school level! On any working day, the heads of all the three schools have to remain extra vigilant. 'Imagine all boys and girls are together in one small campus and they have to share the washrooms. You tell me, is it possible for me to keep a continuous check on students all the time?' says Haleema Bano, the principal of Government Girls High School, one of the three schools located inside the small campus. 'My school is no more a girl only school.' During admission time, the school compound is a literal mess as all the three principals try to lure students into their fold. 'Yes it happened initially because all the three schools are high schools, but now we are used to the situation,' says Ruksana, who is in-charge of High School Barzulla. The school is headless from last more than 10 months. 'We came here as per the directions of directorate office but we were not provided any class rooms. Initially we used to conduct our classes under the sky. But then we were allowed to use the Verandah of the school and now after repeated requests we have been given access to three classrooms. Imagine a high school, from class Nursery to 10th standard, running from three rooms!' says Ruksana. Interestingly in 2014, no student was enrolled in the 10th class in her school. The teacher-student ration of these three schools presents an interesting picture of how the state's education system balances the void. In Girls High School Hyderpora there are 16 teachers for 50 students; Girls High School Barzulla has 25 teachers for 30 students and Boys High School Hyderpora has 20 teachers for 150 students. ClassroomBut a close look at these 230 odd students studying in these 3 schools and you will instantly see that most of them are either from rural areas or no-local students from Bihar and Nepal. 'Most of these non-local students are the children of helpers who work in the families of these teachers. They don't pay those helpers and instead they tell them we teach your children for free,' says a support staff who wished not to be named. 'Even these students work as domestic helps in their (teachers) houses after school and are not paid anything in return.' According to reliable sources, most of the female teachers in these three schools are never transferred because of their bureaucratic or political connections. 'They are either wives or sisters of bureaucrats or politicians. How can anybody transfer them? They are attached safely in an overstaffed school,' the source adds. Showkat Ahmad Beigh, Director School Education claims, 'For all government schools, the teacher-student ratio usually remains at 1:20. However, in some special cases, it goes up to 1:30.' But G N Var, the general secretary of Private Schools United Front (PSUF) feels that the ground situation is entirely different. 'This ration reflects ideal situation, which is true for Srinagar city only, that too, in some cases. In far-flung area like Uri, Kupwara, Budgam, etc, the ratio is 1:200 or even worse,' claims Var. 'In these far-flung areas, enrolment in government schools is high as locals cannot afford costly private schools. But no government teacher wants to get posted to these areas. So, that is why, you have such a messy picture in Srinagar,' says Var. 'Why only education department transfer male teachers to these areas to fill the void?' In last financial year, Education Department had Rs 3238 crores budget but not much was spent on the up-gradation of infrastructure. 'Most of the money goes to the revenue part and other activities like salaries, mid-day meals, uniform, textbooks, scholarships and training for teachers. And the minimal left over amount is kept for infrastructure,' continues Director School Education Kashmir. Interestingly, the percentage of students from first primary to twelfth class studying in state-run schools in Kashmir has shrunken from 65.42 per cent in 2008 to 61.62 per cent in 2012. Around 38.37 per cent of more than 2.5 million students were getting education at private schools - an appreciation of 3.80 per cent in four years by the end of 11th five year plan. An interesting trend that is emerging out of the situation is that the most of the new enrollments prefer private schools over state-run schools. Between 2008 and 2012 during which 621035 new enrolments took place, 50.41 per cent students were straightway admitted at private schools. Most of the cases where the state-run schools got the bulk of new admissions were simply because the private schools were not available. Not only infrastructure, it is the quality of education in the state-run schools these days that matter. (The new data for 2013 and 2014 was temporarily unavailable with the department due to recent floods.) In picturesque Pahalgam town's Rangwar village, a government Primary School is operated from a private house. Interestingly, the owner of the house charges no rent for allowing school to function from two of his rooms and verandah. For lack of space, multiples classes are run from a single room. Around ten students were pressed against each other in a not-so-large circle marked on the floor with a white chalk. 'This is the only demarcation we have to distinguish between different classes,' says one of the teachers. 'We have to expand the reach of school because it is must to provide elementary education in every corner of state that is why we keep on adding the school even if it is run from a single room,' says Beigh, Director Education. Two teachers, two classes and one classroom. Two teachers, two classes and one classroom. In order to improve the functioning of government schools Harsh Dev Singh, a lawmaker in the last government brought a private members bill in state assembly that made it mandatory for all government officials to get their wards admitted in state-run schools but he was laughed at. And when the same lawmaker became Education Minister, he didn't fulfill his earlier wish! 'It will be better for the education system to either get privatized or nationalize it like it is done in America,' feels Var. In 2011, the then DDC Mehraj Ahmad Kukroo along with a few local MLAs planned to open Model Schools across the state. The plan was to convert some of the state-run schools into model schools where all facilities will be given to a student. But the idea was dropped once the tentative costs were checked, shared an official who had drafted the plan. Post Flood Scenario: Situated in the business hub of summer capital Srinagar, various schools and colleges got inundated in September flood and so did the higher secondary school, Amira Kadal, but after almost six months, the ground floor of its two buildings are still under water. Out of the five buildings of this higher secondary school, three were declared unsafe by the R&B department, says Director School Education. But despite that, all the buildings have been kept ready for the use of students. When Kashmir Life reporter visited the school, all of the buildings were painted in such a way that the cracks were not visible at first glance. In the main building, which was worst hit, the uneven surface of floor on the ground floor and the painted cracks gave a feeling that building is not 'safe'. But still the school administration is presently conducting board examination (12th) in this building and very soon the normal classes will start from this building. An informed source, wishing anonymity, says, 'This main block building has been declared unsafe but still the cracks were filled up and then painted to give students a feeling that it is safe. Recently during an inspection hue and cry was witnessed in the college when officials were scolded for cheating, but I don't know what happened after that and the students were allowed to use this building despite knowing it is not safe.' As per the official figures, a total of 13680 schools (11633 government and 2047 private), 1096 schools (government and private) were damaged in the floods. It includes 60 partially and 495 fully damaged government owned, rented and private schools. Besides that around three lakh books (in the state run and private schools) were also damaged in the floods. In the Srinagar district alone around 222 schools, including 65 government-owned and 157 rented buildings were hit by the flood. Out of which 63 have been declared unsafe by the R&B department. 'In case we don't have a building available for some damaged school, we will be having classes in two shifts. Like till afternoon one school will use the building and another shift another school will use the same building, without disturbing the education,' says Beigh, Director Education. As per the official data, Government Middle School Rambagh, which was running from a rented accommodation, was declared unsafe by the department and it was temporarily shifted to High School Natipora. 'When we went there the school authorities refused to provide us with space. They are themselves facing space crisis. We are still in search of a rented space where we can shift our school,' says one official of this school. As per the official records, every government primary school received Rs 5,000; Rs 7,000 to middle schools, Rs 10,000 to high schools and Rs 15,000 to higher secondary schools for the cleaning purposes from the Divisional Commissioner's office but all private schools claim that they did not receive any such amount even if they too were inundated and severely hit. In district Srinagar, the department of education has forwarded a requisition of Rs 522.70 crore (tentatively projected) for the renovation, repair and reconstruction of new buildings of government schools. 'Rs 15,000 is a meager amount for cleaning a school. Our school was inundated for two months so tell me how we would manage to clean our school when a labourer charges Rs 400 a day,' asks Qazi Arshid Hussain, vice principal Government girl's Higher Secondary School, Rajbagh. He claims his school was among the worst hit where furniture suffered 70 per cent loss, while the library, laboratory and other documents are completely damaged. He claims that in November 2014, when the water level receded and left-over water was drained out through motors, they cleaned up the silt from school premises and it cost them Rs 40,000. In February 2015, they cleaned up the school again and this time it cost them around Rs 30,000. 'This time we painted the walls and got all school buildings fumigated. Our one building is unsafe but we are yet to get the directions from department for it reconstruction.' But when asked about the newly fabricated 10 huts in this school compound, he says he has no information whether they are for the use of his school or any other school will be shifted to it. A few miles away Government Boy's Higher Secondary, Jawahar Nagar was inundated for more than two months. Principal's office has been restored and the cleaning process has just started in the months of March 2015, for two other buildings. Nobody knows why the process was not started soon after floods! Out of the six buildings in this higher secondary, one has been declared unsafe by the R&B department. But for the other buildings, the silt is still kept outside for drying. No device is visible in the science and geography labs which are filled with the mounds of mud, washed books and broken furniture. An official adds, 'It was because of the callous approach of government that this school, despite being the worst affected by floods, is yet to be renovated or even cleaned. This school was waiting for notice and in that garb, all staff was in their homes, relaxing.' Gulzar Ahmad, principal government higher secondary school Jawahar Nagar says, 'This year the school may cut down with the admissions for class 11 by 50 per cent at least. We don't have space as some of our buildings are unsafe.' Meanwhile as per the official figures, all private schools which are 2047 in number (4719 as per PSUF) have incurred a loss of around Rs 3000-4000 crore. While all the private schools are already renovated, cleaned and reconstructed for ongoing academic session; the condition of government schools presents a distressing picture. 'I am done with all the reconstruction in school and it is already fit for conducting classes. We have properly fumigated it and we have all books available for students,' says Shahnawaz Ahmad, whose school was inundated in floods for almost a month. 'We had to do it in time so that directorate doesn't cancel our affiliation.' Director School Education Showkat Ahmad Beigh: On Government Schools Condition: Our department is the biggest employer after police department; we have 17 lakh enrollments in our schools with 93600 manpower. A major part of our resources go to revenue and other activities like salaries, mid-day meals, uniform, text books, scholarships and training for teachers. So our maximum budget (out of Rs 3238.67 crores) goes to these items. And then from a very lesser amount left we have to make arrangements for infrastructure. On Teacher-Student Ratio: In government schools we have a ratio of 1:20. But the norm is to have a ratio of 1:30. In private schools the number goes up to 1:50. Our aim is to reach as many children as possible so that everybody can have easy access to education. That is why within half a kilometer you will find a school. On increasing the schools: In urban areas, private schools are there but our focus usually remains on rural areas. In Srinagar and other major districts you will find a number of private schools, but once you move to peripheral areas, the number of such private school decreases. If anybody will ask me to give recognition to a private school in areas like Karnah, Tangdar, Uri etc, I will give that readily with some concessions, but nobody is ready to open schools in these areas. Private schools are accountable but our schools are socially bound. On Quality of Education: We provide quality education in our Higher Secondary Schools who come up with positions but down the line the education system is suffering. In primary schools, the students are usually from poor background and their parents are illiterate, so they don't monitor them. We ask them to come forward for scholarships but they never come forward. In city, the enrollments are lesser despite providing free books, uniform and meals. Instead they prefer to go to private schools and then send their wards for tuitions. On Government Teachers: We have the highest qualified teachers who get selected after different types of screenings. They are the nation builders of our society. It is the fault of our parents who don't take the education of their wards seriously. They never come forward for parent teacher meets, so how can they blame teachers? On private schools recognition: They also provide quality education but at the same time they charge more money. Locals have a stand that they will send their children to private schools and when it comes to getting a job, they need a job in Government school. Recognition for a school has a revised performa on renewal basis, which we check after every two years. It is important as the enrollment changes in private schools. We need to check if the infrastructure is in lieu with the change in rolls of a school. It is to check if, they have not deviated from the set norms. On post flood school preparations So far we didn't receive any relief so we couldn't plan the cleanliness drive immediately after floods. So then we decided to use the local fund of our schools to clean them post floods, to make them functional. That is why we have made alternate arrangements for the schools which couldn't get revived in time. On Government and Private School Rules: Government schools have social obligations but private schools don't have to worry about such things. Government schools are aimed at spreading education to a wider audience while private schools are out to earn money. In private schools, students come themselves but we have to catch students. They teach students in ideal conditions, they don't have to face harsh conditions like we do. I will give you an example, last time we used choppers, on special request from Div Com and horses to send examination material to far flung area, in Bandipora, Kupwara and in some border areas. Can any private school do that? On education standard: If we have 17 lakh students, it includes the students from Kupwara, Bandipora and even more far off places. That is why we have to set our standard low so that each student from city or border area can catch up the same line. If we talk about our schools in Srinagar like Kothi Bagh, Amira Kadal, SP School then our standard is at par with any private school. But then we have to add schools of Machil which obviously means the outcome will get affected. Those students can't compete with a student from Srinagar.