At 5.45am, Baljeet Kaur begins her 120-km journey from Faridkot to reach Khalra senior secondary school for girls along the India-Pakistan border in Tarn Taran district, where she manages the school as the officiating principal, with only four teachers at hand.
"I begin early as there are four railway crossings on the way," she says with a laugh, not complaining about her two-and-a-half-hour-long drive to the school. She, however, adds, "I can still afford a car to reach here. Spare a thought for those who travel by bus to faraway places."
This English lecturer is the only senior teacher in the school, where the posts of four lecturers are lying vacant. She teaches classes 11 as well as 12, besides doing her administrative work and supervising the mid-day meal.
"The mid-day meal must be taken seriously for the sake of children's health," she says.
Baljeet once applied for transfer to her home district, Faridkot, but has not even bothered to approach any officer for her case in the past nearly two years of her tenure here.
"I am fine here as I am needed in this school. Someone has to teach these poor kids as well," she smiles, explaining how teachers from faraway places joined and then left a few days after their transfer here.
The Khalra school caters to five villages and has a strength of 400 girls, most of them "fond of reading, if encouraged", she says.
"The involvement of parents is a must. This is a challenge here due to their poor socio-economic conditions," she observes.
Like Baljeet Kaur at Khalra, Jasbir Kaur is battling difficult conditions at the senior secondary school for girls at Dera Baba Nanak, a village along the border in Gurdaspur district.
Unlike teachers thronging the directorate of school education at SAS Nagar with politicians' recommendations for their transfers, Jasbir does not believe in approaching any official or politician for the transfer. She travels more than 50 km from her residence at Chowk Mehta in Amritsar.
"I am ready to take charge of the boys' school as well (at Dera Baba Nanak)," Jasbir asserts, expressing her regret at the pathetic condition of the boys' branch. Confidence is writ large on her face, as she dictates do's and don'ts to her staff.
At faraway Hariana village in Hoshiarpur district, two teachers appointed under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) manage a primary school in a three-room house. "We have taken up the matter with the authorities," says one of them, requesting anonymity.
'Bal mela' an annual affair
In 2009, Jagjit Singh and his few colleagues launched the Sikhya Vikas Manch (SVM), initiating a move to admit their own wards in the government schools where they taught.
A year later, they organised a 'Bal mela' for government schools' children that has now become an annual feature. In October last year, the fourth such mela was organised at Mandaur senior secondary school ground near Patiala, in which children from 150 schools participated in sports and other extracurricular activities.
"We realised that the primary school system is not taken seriously in terms of overall growth and personality of children as they mainly come from economically poor sections of society. This event has really encouraged them to take up sports and other such activities," said master Jagjit Singh.
Jagjit's son, now in Class 6, accompanies his father to the Mandaur high school.
In 2010, then director general of school education (DGSE), Punjab, Krishan Kumar gave permission to the SVM for the 'bal mela' after a lot of debate about how a non-government organisation or an activists' body could organise an event for children of government schools.
He counted about 10 of his colleagues who had admitted their own kids to the schools where they taught.
The fifth edition of the 'Bal mela' is scheduled for October 11-12 at Narike government school ground in Sangrur district.
"This event boosts the morale of these children and makes them feel on a par with students of private or missionary schools," Jagjit adds.
He says that their practice of admitting their own children to government schools is gradually spreading, as the 'Bal mela' witnesses debates and informal interaction among teachers over issues concerning the school education system.