When the only teacher goes on leave, tiny tots read out lessons to instructions from a classmate. The shiksha mitra staffer takes care of the rest of the day’s work in the school.
Last week, the Uttar Pradesh capital saw a Class 1 boy loudly reciting numbers, facing a handful of students seated on a mat in a modest room that has no electricity. It is an attempted mathematics session at the primary school in Gehru. The lone teacher, Ravi Krishna Mishra, is absent, and the para teacher (shiksha mitra) is busy signing papers, as the van carrying mid-day meal had just arrived.
That scene on Thursday isn’t a one-off. The country’s most populous state has close to 16,000 single-teacher schools, where the sole teacher taking leave would mean the children are left to fend for themselves.
“Often we take the responsibility of teaching when the teacher fails to turn up,” said a Class 5 student of Gehru’s primary school enrolled with 76 children. “I have to manage the class by also ensuring discipline.”
No encouraging is the situation at the primary school in the city’s Makka Kheda area. It has one teacher giving classes to students of Class 1 to 5 in one room. “I have to handle all the five classes at the same time,” the master said. “It’s very difficult.”
All this, amid the government’s claims of “quality education” in the state.
Lucknow district alone has 35 single-teacher schools out of its 1,840 government-run primary-education institutions. The state, overall, has 15,843 government and aided schools that have just one teacher. Invariably, the students give classes when the lone teacher is on leave or engaged in other professional work.
Parents of the children in single-teacher schools say the students have to occasionally do more than just teaching classmates. “Sometimes, even the keys of the school are handed over to one of the students. He is the one who opens the doors,” a resident said, seeking anonymity.
Basic Shiksha Adhikari (Lucknow) Praveen Mani Tripathi said things will improve. “Very soon, additional teachers will be deputed,” he added.
Right to Education crusader Samina Bano has a different view. “It is a misconception that there is a shortage of teachers in UP’s government schools. The state has nearly 6 lakh regular-cum-contract teachers,” she said. “The real challenge is an irrational distribution of the teachers. There are schools having more than sufficient teachers when the children are just a few. There are other schools with just one teacher on hundreds of students.”
Besides, teachers’ transfer is a major issue as big money changes hands. Most of the teachers get their desired postings in cities, while rural areas are neglected. “In many cases, teachers are posted in one school while they live and work in a different city,” Bano said.
Data by the District Information System for Education says 53% children in UP go to private schools. “In fact, government schools are no longer the largest service provider in education,” said Bhano. “Private schools are flourishing due to inadequacies in the government school system. We need educational reforms. The private sector must be regulated to stop them from exploiting the situation.”