Those who believe that schools are the temples for nurturing the young generation have probably not seen the century-old school in this holy town along the India-Pakistan border.
The government senior secondary school for boys is situated half a kilometre from the border outpost, where the Punjab government is seeking a corridor for facilitating access to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan.
Established in 1910, the school, never upgraded, is left with less than 300 children comprising a batch each of classes 6 to 12, all accommodated in four big rooms of an unsafe building, a major portion of which lies unused.
The private schools mushrooming in the area are out of bounds for the students due to much higher fees. Their villages within a 10-km radius have no other government senior secondary school.
Physics lecturer Karnail Singh, the officiating principal, laughs when asked about the strength of subject teachers in the school. Six of the eight posts of lecturer and six of the 15 posts of master cadres are lying vacant, he tells HT.
"Whosoever comes here to teach, manages his transfer within a few days," he quips.
His two colleagues, science masters Rakesh Kumar and Rakesh Mahajan, are alumni of this school. Apart from science, they also teach maths and English to all classes.
"We are here because we belong to this place," says Mukesh Kumar, posted here since 1997. "Students come from places as far as 15 km away," he says, counting Kalanaur, Kotli, Dhyanpur, Ramdass and Fatehgarh Churian, where the condition of schools from the primary level is also pathetic.
Fathers of a few students are drug addicts who prefer not to spend money on their kids' books and uniform. An annual grant of Rs. 400 per student for the entire uniform, including shoes, trousers and shirts, is insufficient, says a teacher, pointing out that many boys do not even have proper pullovers to brave the winter.
The teachers have introduced a system wherein senior students sell their books at half rate to their juniors after the end of the academic session. "A science book costs Rs. 135. Buying a new one is not a priority of the parents here," a teacher explains.
The chief minister's former principal secretary Gurkirat Kirpal Singh had inspected the school last year, when he gave an assurance to fill the vacancies and also get the building renovated.
Gurkirat, when contacted, said a grant of Rs. 15 lakh was given for new rooms. "But, I agree, the school needs over Rs. 1 crore for its renovation, seeing its pathetic condition," he said.
On the idea of merging the girls' and boys' schools, Gurkirat, who also served as the Gurdaspur deputy commissioner, said there was local opposition to co-education.
On the bright side
The girls' senior secondary school on the other side of the town, bifurcated from the erstwhile co-ed school in 1996, presents a far better picture. The strength of students is also relatively high. However, the absence of lecturers in economics, political science and history is a stumbling block for the girls, even though there is no shortage of maths teachers.
The Dera Baba Nanak school is among more than 8,000 which are housed in unsafe buildings across Punjab. The state government had submitted an affidavit in the Punjab and Haryana high court on August 8, saying that it would demolish all such unsafe structures within eight days. However, the process has not been completed. The submission in the high court had come during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) regarding unsafe school buildings in Punjab.
Tomorrow: Heroic teachers