Imagine trying to imbibe new information while also jostling for space to sit comfortably. Or learning how to write when your book just barely fits your desk, which you share with someone else.
And then trying to pay attention while a solitary teacher attempts to shout over the cacophony of 60 children in a tiny classroom.
The Right To Education (RTE) Act stipulates that there should be no more than 30 students to a teacher in the primary Classes 1 to 5 and 35 in the upper-primary Classes 6 to 8. The average classroom in schools across the state holds double this number.
At least 28.3% of primary schools in the state have more than 30 students to a teacher and 25.16% of upper primary schools have more than 35 students per teacher.
Moreover, while the National Council of Education and Research Training requires schools to provide every child with at least eight square feet of space in a classroom, most city schools offer a fraction of the area.
The Bombay high court had recommended that students’ benches be at least ten feet away from the blackboard, after 83 children were killed in a school fire in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu in 2004. Few schools follow this rule.
Academicians said that new teaching methods and upcoming technology in education require students to be given individual attention, but crowded classrooms rarely allow for that. “It is not realistic for teachers to handle 60-65 students on their own,” said Father Francis Swamy, principal of Holy Family School, Andheri.
“Disciplining students is a huge task and they require one-on-one attention.”
Crowded classrooms are a direct outcome of the shortage of schools, experts said. There are only 1,567 aided and unaided private schools in Mumbai for more than twelve lakh students in Classes 1 to 12.
Another nine lakh students study in the 2,426 schools run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
While schools offering non-state boards such as ICSE, CBSE and IGCSE are mushrooming, their fees are too high for many city parents.
“We need more schools offering affordable education so that students from lower income groups can secure admission there,” added Swamy.
In a similar vein, Jayant Jain, president of the Forum For Fairness in Education, an NGO, said most new schools are coming up with a profit motive.
“With annual fees of more than Rs80,000 to Rs5 lakh, the common man cannot afford to send their children to such schools. So, aided schools and government schools get crowded,” said Jain.
It’s a different story altogether in the free schools run by the municipal corporations.
In 2011, the BMC clubbed many of the primary classrooms having less than 30 students following a government resolution issued in 1995. Owing to this, more than 50 students are packed inside each civic school classroom.
Around 900 teachers from the primary section were declared surplus because of this move and were shifted to the secondary section.
“There are only 146 secondary BMC schools while there are over 1,200 primary schools, so how did they accommodate 900 teachers in these schools?” asked Ramesh Joshi, head of BMC teachers union, suggesting that these teachers do not have enough work now.