Aside from the lack of infrastructure, teachers and books, the lack of toilets in BMC schools is one of the reasons for low attendance and early dropouts.
The alarming drop-out rate, especially among girls, is worrisome.
A survey conducted by the NGO Pratham has found that the drop-out rate of girls is 30% higher than that of boys.
“Because of the lack of hygiene facilities, there has been a high drop-out rate of students at the elementary school level, with only a small proportion moving to the secondary level. Only 12 out of 100 children reach class 10. And the drop-out rate of girls is higher by 30% than that of boys,” said Sarika Patil, field manager, Pratham, which conducted a survey of BMC schools last year.
Take, for example, the BMC school in Rafiq Nagar between the Govandi dump and the Thane khadi.
While school records shows that 850 students have enrolled for morning and afternoon sessions, a teacher, on the condition of anonymity, said that not more than 350 children attend.
“It is not just the lack of classrooms or disregard for education — the lack of toilets is one of the main reasons for low attendance. There is one common toilet for both teachers and students, male or female,” the teacher said.
According to Rais Kasam Shaikh, BMC group officer, ward 132, infrastructure facilities in the Rafiq Nagar school and the nearby Chikalwadi BMC School have been in a deplorable condition for years.
“Over three lakh students studying in civic schools face the problem of common toilets or lack of toilets. This, despite the fact that the BMC, on paper, spends between Rs 3,600 and Rs 4,000 per child per month,” said Shaikh.
School infrastructure provisions in the Right to Education (RTE) Act dictate that every school should have all-weather buildings, a library, separate toilets for boys and girls, drinking water and playgrounds.
The deadline to implement these was March 31, failing which the school’s recognition would be withdrawn, but no action has been taken yet. HP Bhirud, officer, RTE cell, said, “We provided schools with an extension, keeping in mind the monsoon.”
Students at the Rafiq Nagar school complain that staff members hog the only toilet by keeping it locked, while they have to use public toilets.
“I don’t like coming to school because we are sent to the public toilets outside the school gate, which are very dirty and have men standing around,” said Sunita Lande, a class-6 student at the Baiganwadi BMC School in Govandi.
But principal Shashi Joshi argues that while children can use public toilets, the staff cannot.“Aside from students, the toilet is also used by male and female staff. But we can’t ask teachers to use public toilets,” said Joshi.
Building more toilets is not a solution either.
Blaming the quality of land, BMC officials say that the land might cave in if construction is attempted. “Due to continuous traffic of dumping vans on the road leading to the school, construction has become difficult,” said Bhirud.