The donation of Rs. 1 crore that deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal made to his old boarding school in Himachal Pardesh from public money won't bankrupt Punjab by any means. True.
However, it must be the bankruptcy of the state education system that many government schools in Bathinda and Mansa districts are run from inns and one-room houses of the poor.
In 1969, when Government Primary School at Multania Kothe village in Bathinda district opened in a farmers' house, the man had allowed it in good faith, to see the neighbourhood's children become educated. More than 42 years on, owner still paying for the electricity that runs the only fan inside, the disintegrating structure explains the plight of the education system.
In this one-room school, 36 children squat on the broken floor, facing five directions to distinguish each class. Two teachers handle all. Six government primary schools in Bathinda district are run in similar residential accommodations. In Mansa, children of the five classes of Government Primary School at Surgapuri are luckier. They have a narrow corridor, besides the one room, to sit in. This school runs in an inn that has little foot space. A teacher stands in the corridor and another in the room that doubles as midday-meal kitchen.
Many government schools in both districts have unsuitable buildings. Five of the eleven primary schools in Mansa city run from inns. Most children sit in the open, and break for holidays when guests check in. The Mansa administration has requested the owners of these inns to not let out the premises for private function in school days.
"A school building itself is supposed to teach many things to students," says educationist Karnail Singh. "A school campus should have many trees, an open yard, a playground, big classrooms, and enough space and fresh air. Children in most of the government schools in the two districts do not even have the access to drinking water, and Bathinda and Mansa have the highest content of uranium and arsenic in groundwater."
Hand pumps bring at least any water into some schools. It's contaminated, but children have no choice. "Officials concerned know only the children of the poor study in these schools," said Karnail Singh, "and poor parents will never complain."
Schools in inns, houses
Government Primary School, Gandhi Nagar
Bus Adda School, Thoothianwali Road
Aulakh Basti Primary School
Harijan Basti Primary
Government schools in National Fertiliser Limited (NFL) Colony: run in residential quarters for the NFL employees
Government schools in Guru Nank Dev Thermal Power Plant Colony: run in an employee quarters
Government Primary School, Rai Kalan: run in a house since the old building collapsed
Government Primary School, near Central Jail: run in an old canteen
Note: The government has paid no rent for years for any of these buildings