By Ashok Mutum
Can it be a genuine case of low population or high number of faithless people – who have lost hope in government schools? In my state (Manipur) one witnesses very low enrolments and lesser attendance in the government primary schools (GPS).
The flagship scheme Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, makes it compulsory for every neighbourhood (of 1 km radius) to have a GPS. But even today there are villages where a GPS has not been set up, and if there is they aren’t functional, rendering such villages effectively school-less.
As a part of ASER 2013 process, when I visited a village in Tengnoupal block of Chandel district in Manipur, we could not find a GPS. There was one aided school but by the time we reached, it was already closed.
I was curious to know how many such villages have we encountered so far in the district, which do not have a GPS? Out of 21 villages surveyed till date, only 15 villages have a GPS. But the sad part is that out of these 15, 5 villages have schools which are not functional. This means that there are worn out school buildings and classrooms, staff appointed and drawing salary, and school funds are being received (maybe intermittently if not regularly); but no students are enrolled thereby making the school lifeless and useless for a long time.
One of the most visible ramifications of this situation, particularly in the hill districts or remote villages, is that most of the children (even in the primary stage) are studying outside the village – many of them have taken up rents in nearby towns and study in private schools, and some of them travel far and wide to reach the nearest school as shown in the picture below.
In house after house where we went to collect information and test children for ASER, we are welcomed warmly with local snacks.
And in most cases, we are unable to enjoy the snacks, as the household members declare their love for the very popular & fashionable syndrome of the state – we don’t send our kids to the pathetic government schools. According to ASER 2012, Manipur has the highest private school enrolment in the country, with 67% of children in the age group of 6 to 14 years attending private schools. And with the seemingly easy testing tool, there comes a smirk along with the unmistakable pride in their eyes – my kid goes to the private school and is a genius! All we could say at this point is, ‘lets just wait and watch’. The outcomes of the test do surprise the guardians!
This has a lot of bearing on the society at large, both socially as well as economically. Families end up spending a lot more than what they are supposed to, on education. Children often struggle by staying and studying in places which do not have proper facilities and this does not necessarily improve their quality of learning. Maybe the reason which led us to this situation is complex and probably a result of a complete apathy towards demanding, providing and maintaining public services over generations. Now it is high time to start rethinking where have we gone wrong and coming up with solutions