Bettiah Mahatma Gandhi’s Champaran, where he initiated India’s freedom movement, may have 29 out of 321 buniyadi vidyalayas (basic schools) in Bihar, but their failure to preach students Gandhian principles is a sad commentary on basic schools in the state.
Set up by Gandhi to provide education along with training in spinning, carpentry, farming and weaving, etc., the basic schools have failed miserably to live up to their expectations.
Many of the students in these basic schools have not heard about Gandhi’s exploits, what to talk of his philosophies. “I don’t know Mahatma Gandhi. Who is he?” asks Sonu Kumari, 12, a class 6 student at the Rajkiya Balika Bunyadi School, Brindavan, one of the few basic schools established by Mahatma Gandhi in 1939.
Sonu has grown up under the benign gaze and feet of Bapu — living in a thatched hut at the edge of a neatly maintained Gandhi memorial garden that her grandfather Mathura Bhagat tended till his death a few years back. Her father Banu Bhagat now carries his father Mathura’s dedicated baton forward. Not a day passes without the Bhagats offering fresh flowers at the feet of the Mahatma’s statue in the centre of the garden at Brindavan, about 10 km north of Bettiah, headquarters of West Champaran district in north Bihar.
To Sonu, who is reminded of the statue by her father, Gandhi is Baba (grandfather).
Kapil Deo Yadav, a teacher at the school, however, claims that students are well aware of Bapu, as a whole lot of activity is taking place on the centenary year of Gandhi’s Champaran Satyagraha, which the government is celebrating.
“We have been organising nibandh lekhan (essay writing) and chitrakala (painting) competitions, to keep his ideals floating,” he says. At this buniyadi vidyalaya (basic school), Gandhi’s preachings end at essay writing and drawing competitions. For, there is nothing at this school today to teach children skill development, which Gandhi wanted them to develop while pursuing education.
The classrooms sans benches and desks, as children are made to sit on the floor. The school, from classes 1 to 8, has less than sufficient rooms to host a class independently in each room. Windows are bare opening in walls, with iron grills, but no windowpanes to reduce the severity of heat wave in summer and chill in winter. Besides, there is an acute shortage of faculty. An average 2-3 teachers in each such school teach all subjects till class 8.
The situation in other buniyadi vidyalayas is no better.
Fifty kilometres north of Brindavan, at Bhitiharwa near Indo-Nepal border, where Gandhi and Kasturba set up an ashram in 1917, the scenario is no different.
Anshu Raj, a class 3 student at Buniyadi Vidyalaya, Bhitiharwa, another school set up by Gandhi, recognises the Mahatma as the man in stone (there’s a bust of Bapu on Bhitiharwa ashram campus). “Hau baran (There he is)”, he says in Bhojpuri, a local dialect, pointing to Gandhi’s bust. Beyond that he knows nothing of Gandhi and is candid enough to admit it.
“The charkha (spinning wheel) is a reminder of the past. There is no training on how to operate it. We are simply being imparted bookish knowledge, with stress on rote learning” says small-time farmer Manoj Yadav, who passed out from the basic school in 1988. One of his batch mates, Chandan Prasad Yadav, has opened a paan (betel) shop outside the Gandhi ashram, while yet another, Narain Shah, is a farmer.
Against this backdrop, it is not surprising when the annual status of education report (ASER), 2016 by Pratham, an NGO, says that the learning outcome of children continues to be a big concern in Bihar. It also says that one in four children drop out of class 8 without even basic reading skills.
The report points out that though school enrolment has been high since 2010, attendance, despite incentives, remains a worry in Bihar. The state has recorded just 50%-60% student attendance, as compared to over 80% in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Haryana and other states.
A cause for concern is the dip in teachers’ attendance from 84.6% in primary schools (classes 1-5) in 2010 to 74.6% in 2016. The trend was almost similar in upper primary schools (classes 5-8) as well. And basic schools are no exception.
West Champaran district magistrate Lokesh Kumar Singh is all too aware about the condition of basic schools. “The education department has prepared a project for revival of the Brindavan and Bhitiharwa buniyadi vidyalayas and we have sent proposals for revival of others. They should be okayed soon.”