I was having a casual stroll in a rusty,uncouth village of Bihar after finishing my work. I saw a boy sitting on a buffalo reading some book. I have seen a lot of kids in this part of the world thanks to the nature of my job, but hardly found anyone studying. He was around 11-12 years old. I asked him what he was doing and he smilingly told me he had gone to look after his harvest, and in the meantime he was studying his book. Though I completely envied his relaxed and carefree demeanor, what caught my attention was his book of English letters. Those A for Apple sort of elementary books are taught in Class I, this boy looked way beyond being a class I student, I asked him which class, ‘sixth’ he said. “whose book are you reading?” I asked to which he replied “My own”. So at this age he was just beginning his English studies, that also roaming around in the farmland when he should have been at his school, I asked him why doesn’t he go to school to which he replied “no one teaches at village school, this is for the coaching classes you know”.
Schools in rural Bihar rarely do what they are supposed to do. That is why there are very remote chances to come across a school where teachers and students are actually present and actual process of teaching is being followed. During the course of my work I meet kids studying in these schools and even a class 5 student of a Government Primary School can’t read simple Hindi let alone English. Amidst extreme pressure of performing in areas of Education and Health, our governments have now mastered the art of fooling the parameters of success. So now our children are attending schools, eating mid day meals and a lot of them are even passing High School or Intermediate College examination, but are they really getting any useful education? Is the education system currently being followed in rural Bihar putting them on par or even remotely near to what it is of the students in other parts of the country. The answer to this question is a monumental disappointment, especially when you think of what an average Bihari villager goes through in making his child complete 13-14 years of formal school education. We are not only failing his aspirations and struggle but also putting an enormously uphill task ahead of that child who is driven by intense desire of making his parents proud through achieving success in the competitive world outside Bihar. So anywhere if you happen to meet someone with roots in rural Bihar who has made it big in their careers, reserve some of your most precious respect for them; as their struggles are far far bigger then what meets the eyes.
For sake of lip service, Bihar has been the traditional epicenteer of knowledg but as per the history that needs no excavation, there hasn’t been a more educationally challenged region in the country. Post Lalu Raj, Bihar tried to make amends but most of the efforts were too little too late. Though former CM Nitish Kumar must be credited for trying his level best in the last decade, you can easily find newly made school buidings on every nook and corner of Bihar. It’s hard to find a village which is not touched by a school nearby and almost all of these schools have been constructed in last 10 years, highlighting the exceptionally barbaric and strategically well planned cruelty of keeping Bihar backward by earlier regimes. But making the school buildings was only the first step, ensuring the presence of teachers and students in those buildings and maintaining quality of education was left to those who were not ready to do it responsibly. A large cadre of teachers was created but like all mass recruitment drives in Bihar, it was marred by illegalities/corruption. No responsible NGO was given the task of ensuring that the children were brought to schools from homes and then they are made to study and not just become consumers of mid day meals/free books/school dresses. The task was best left to the teachers who as per anybody’s guess never performed it. School building have no fans, no lights, furniture is a luxury available in selected ones. Mostly one or two teachers are available in whole school, there is no clear cut pattern of classes, no time table for following any structured syllabus. Now what goes into official records is the result, so at the end of academic year, majority of children are promoted to next standard without any proper system of judging their knowledge. Year after year same cycle is repeated. The teachers posted in these schools are not dumb, they can teach if they want to which is even more evident by the evening tuition classes some of them run in the same school premises or nearby for a sizable amount of fee. The extra money they make through tuitions is what drives them into teaching duties, though most teaching positions are grossly underpaid but so are almost all the contractual positions in government departments and can not be a reason for dereliction of duties.
Village after village whenever you ask a parent why they don’t send their child to school, you get the same reply that nobody teaches them in schools anyways so what’s the point in losing half a man’s wages they can make at work. Food and clothes they will eventually get if at all it is being distributed as they are officially part of the class. I have ran out of arguments convincing the parents about any reasonable justification of sending their children to schools except for availing them an opportunity in future to make amends. It is high time this exceptional gap between the educational standards of village schools is being addressed, a fixed time bound curriculum is devised, teaching duties are properly distributed, a proper monitoring system is put in place to ensure the classes are taking place and above all bringing children to school and making them stay should be left to NGOs who can do it in a far more efficient ways. Similar efforts have been made in the sector of Public Health/Routine Immunization by involving NGOs like Unicef, WHO and Care India to encouraging results, the same model can be followed in the sector of education as well.