Money Matters…

By Sagarika Ranjan
In Cover Story
May 7, 2015
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Ambiguous RTE, ghost teachers, meager GDP allocation and shifting responsibilities on distribution of funds are the achievements of our age-old education system. A visit to government schools in rural India reveals the rot.

rural-educationCarefully wading through the dung cakes, horned cattle and muddy puddles, I made my way into an open area. Dotted with trees, the area had some well-clad gentlemen seated on chairs reading out from some almost torn books while scores of children in uniform – some brushing off dust, some pulling each other’s hair, some scribbling something in their notebooks did or did not care of the literature piece being read out.

I was feeling irritated at the villager who had sent me to a wrong address when I asked for the village’s government school. Commotion all over I decided to leave when something caught my attention. A dusty-rusty board atop that dying building that said – Government Senior Secondary school.

Disappointed? Yes I was. So here were our future doctors, engineers, scientists pulling hair, playing with dust and receiving inspiration from our respected teachers basking in the sun or merrily knitting away. Curiosity however, got better of disappointment and I managed to convince myself to devote some more time for a fair idea of the so called VidyaMandir — One of the very foundations of the rural development dream of India.

The Indian Government has been spending somewhere between three to four per cent of the GDP on education. This apart, education cess has also been introduced to supplement the financial needs. Debates have been on for ages but the boundary of four per cent has seldom been crossed and that too not more than 4.1 to 4.2 per cent of the GDP.

Education which is considered the backbone of development doesn’t seem to be in good shape and all for want of funds. So how are these institutions managing? Let us see how this school, where I stand, is managing.

The missing boundary’s story goes that the land allocated for the school is yet to be defined and the authority concerned was expected to be here soon. Till then the kids learn about natural environment from cattle and sheds. They manage as the officials are too busy to perform their duty on time.

The building walls had enough holes for the entire rat population or for the nests of birds for that matter. The roof resembled a sieve and the downpour situation was not very difficult to imagine. Paint was I guess an unknown entity and wall was on its way to a royal collapse. That was why I guess the classes, now huge ones, were being conducted in the open space. The kids were learning team work and one the most advanced mind boggling teaching methodology.

It tested my senses as it needed special and trained skills to filter out Math from English and Geography from Science and others from all the other subjects that were being taught simultaneously, loudly and indiscriminately, to the whole bunch of uniformed kids.

We often find people blaming teachers but here is what they have to say, “We never get the required funds on time and when we receive it, it is never sufficient. The government expects us to provide books, uniforms and nutritious food to the kids but here even maintaining the basics is difficult for want of funds.”

There is more. A small room with creaky doors as it seldom opens. This is the school’s kitchen. Months without the mid-day meal and every month there is a different reason. Once it’s the missing cook, next is the missing gas cylinder, next the still to be delivered grains or at times all the entities go missing.

Interestingly, all these unique features were not unique to this set up here in the village; it was unique to all government-funded institutions. I was pained as the reason for all this mockery of education narrowed down and converged at one point – FUNDS!

There was no money to pay the teachers, no money for the cook’s salary and no money for so many other basic requirements, let alone recreational and other co-curricular activities.

The students blame the system while teachers blame principals; a principal pass on the buck on other senior officials and then in the blame line is the government.

There was dearth of funds all over, across all government-funded educational institutions that I visited. Some were awaiting delayed payments; some were not expecting as they never receive it, some said it wasn’t enough while some declined to comment.

Working in the field of education for almost four decades, VinayKantha said, “Today’s education system is anti-democratic.” He explains that education being in the concurrent list has put the students in the doldrums.

The Centre at loggerheads with state governments over funds gives rise to a number of complications. There are issues with how much to allocate and to whom, who would be accountable to whom besides the question of authenticity of reports leads to delay in the disbursement of funds to the real beneficiaries.

“The government does not commit funds easily and at the same time they want full control over the working of the implementing bodies. This intrusive nature of the government along with the non-issuance of funds easily leads to discontent among the staff besides the other issues related to education,” said Kantha. However, he adds that the problem is much more complex and this is just but one of the innumerable strands.

rural-ids

Abject lack of financing means overcrowded classrooms with little amenities

Principal of a government school in rural Bihar, on condition of anonymity said, “We never receive funds as per the allocation. There is never enough money to provide for all that has been recommended by the Right to Education Act or the RTE. Whenever there is audit or any sort of checks it is the principal and the teachers who are held responsible. They should understand that we are at the receiving end. It’s not in our hands.”

He further adds: “Either the grains fall short or are of inferior quality. The cook is not paid on several occasions as there is nothing left to offer. At times, when the cook is missing the teachers have to take up the cudgel of the mid-day meal work thus, hampering education.”

Fund crunch is the main reason behind the deplorable condition of the public education system. The buildings, boundaries and kitchens do not find enough funds to be of the required level. The good teachers with higher qualification refrain from teaching in the government schools as they are not paid on time. Moreover, those who teach there are mostly on contract with meager salaries and chances of them being confirmed are bleak, which explains lack of commitment.

A retired government teacher said, “How does the government expect these contractual teachers to give their hundred per cent when their families back home sleep empty stomach quiet often. Where are the funds? It’s our money but never reaches us.”

Recent repeated stirs by the government teachers well explains the discontent among them. “No teacher likes to sit on the footpath in this scorching sun. You can imagine the kind of situation we are in. I wonder where the fund goes. Huge numbers appear in the paper but not even one-fourth reaches us,” said one of the teachers on strike.

Several innovations right from ‘Naitaleem’ to the RTE and SSA have been put to test. A number of committees and recommendations have tried improving the education system however, the picture remains the same. The teachers still strike for salaries, students do not go to school, mid-day meals remains only on paper, uniforms and books elude the children and the great Indian public education system chugs along!

Sagarika Ranjan