As the government begins to implement the latest piece in its raft of rights-based legislation, the Right to Education Act, Mint travelled to Uttar Pradesh to take a look at how the state with one of the lowest literacy rates in India is coping in the wake of the new law, which promises every 6- to 14-year-old in India the right to quality education. We visited three schools in and around Lucknow, each catering to a different problem demographic: children of the rural poor, inner-city migrants and girls. The full story will appear in Thursday’s Mint as part of The India Agenda series.
Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya
In Mal village, an hour’s drive north of Lucknow, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) has been the recipient of free solar-powered lamps, provided under a Unicef/Ikea scheme, for each of its students. It is one of 454 such schools in Uttar Pradesh run by the government, targeting rural blocks where female literacy is below the national average of 46%.
Click here To view a slideshow of three schools in and around Lucknow, each catering to a different problem demographic
One hundred girls in classes VI, VII and VIII live in simple dormitories over the schoolrooms. When we arrive, on the eve of the exam season, the girls are revising lessons in matching tartan skirts and white shirts. After a blistering day, the light begins to fade—the girls study on. Eventually, as the shadows in the corners give up their implicit blues and pinks, each girl takes her own brightly coloured plastic Ikea lamp and switches it on over her textbook, reading on into the dark.
Three-quarters of the pupils at Mal are from minorities or disadvantaged castes, and there are eligibility criteria for entrance: dropouts, girls who have never been schooled, girls who work at home or on farms. Some of the girls are so far below the national standard for their age that they are offered bridge courses of intensive tuition for three-six months before they start.
Warden Juhi Kishore says the school has been transformational in a block that was the most backward in Lucknow district. “The girls are totally different after they have been here,” she says, “they become broad-minded, they see more aspects to every problem, and most of them now want to become teachers.”
Chandganj Primary School
At the Chandganj school, examinations are in progress for students from classes I-V. Chandganj is a small school with 132 students and caters mainly to the children of Lucknow’s migrant workers. Headmistress Maya Dixit and her two colleagues explain the problems of working in an inner-city school where attendance is sporadic and parents are apt to pull their children out at any moment. The enrolment procedure takes time and adequate funding and materials for new students are often delayed.
At schools such as Chandganj, teachers fight a constant battle to keep children in class, arguing with parents who want to pull out their children and take them back to villages at harvest time. With 48 children in class I and just 11 in class V, the dropout rate is worrying. “We had 250 kids in the school when they built the flyover in 2001,” says Dixit, “the migrant labour makes a big difference.”
Paharpur Village School
Anil Kumar Shukle’s job as headmaster of the Paharpur village school entails a lot more than teaching. Born in the village and an ex-pupil of the school, Shukle says he makes it his morning duty to ensure every child in the village turns up for lessons. His colleague Madhu Ram, one of four members of the staff, describes giving chase to truants, following them into the fields to bring them back.
The children arrive, some having walked for up to 2km without even a pair of shoes. There are four buildings in the complex: two primaries, a girls’ school and a boys’ upper primary. Each year, 60 students clear class VIII.
Sitting at a wooden table on the veranda, Shukle eats unripe mangoes with salt and discusses the problem of finding teachers willing to travel to this remote location, an hour and a half away from Lucknow. Still, he says that when he was a boy, barely any village children got an education. Now, the school is open regularly and plans to expand to class XII.
Text by Cordelia Jenkins