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Not a good place to study

Most Indian schools lack facilities as basic as girls' toilets. Worse, they have only a year to put their house in order. Charu Sudan Kasturi reports. Report card

india Updated: Apr 20, 2012 01:53 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi
Charu Sudan Kasturi
Hindustan Times
Charu Sudan Kasturi,Barpeta district,Assam

Confusion reigns in the single, long classroom at the dual medium No. 123 Safamakar LP School in Barpeta district of Assam. Students from kindergarten to Class 5 sit stuffed together, struggling to make sense as teachers fire instructions for different classes in Assamese and Bodo.

The school should have at least one classroom for each standard by March 31, 2013, under the Right to Education Act. But with less than a year to go, the school is instead a reminder of the steep climb the country faces in providing education of a basic quality.

A school must have at least one classroom for each teacher, a room that serves as the office, headmaster's room and store, separate toilets for boys and girls, safe drinking water, kitchen, playground, library and a boundary wall or fence by April 1, 2013.

But over a quarter of all elementary schools across India don't have enough classrooms. A quarter of Indian schools don't have drinking water. Almost half of the country's elementary schools don't have a boundary wall.

These infrastructure shortages vary in extent across the country, but no state - not even Kerala, India's most literate state - can claim to have overcome these challenges.

Gujarat is one of India's most industrialised states. But students in School No. 1-2 in the Asarva neighbourhood of Ahmedabad don't have benches to sit on. Girls and boys at the Koneri Koppu government school near the Kancheepuram railway station in Tamil Nadu - like Gujarat, one of India's most developed states - don't have separate toilets or safe drinking water. The school has no library, no watchman and no sanitary worker.

It isn't like private schools have the necessary facilities. In Chennai and most cities in Tamil Nadu, it is government schools that mostly have playgrounds, while rich private schools rent them from the government.

Based on the RTE Act's requirement of having at least one school in each neighbourhood, Assam should have over 1,00,000 primary schools - one within each 3km stretch. But the latest Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan report shows that the state has just over 35,000 elementary schools. Of these, too, 31,069 don't have separate toilets for boys and girls. Almost 10,000 don't have drinking water.

And the monsoon only brings more misery to Guwahati's state government-run Assam Railway School. The kitchen-cum-store was built with a floor lower than the rest of the building, turning it into a pool whenever it rains.

Classrooms are turned into makeshift kitchens.

One of Indian education's success stories, the midday meal scheme, is given credit for helping India yank up its school enrolment rate dramatically over the past decade.

But the absence of proper storage facilities meant that Purshottam Burman, the only teacher at the Unnaguri LP School in western Assam's Baksa had to dump five bags of rice into the neighbouring Beki river. The rice was meant for the school's children. Rats and insects had feasted on it instead.

First Published: Apr 20, 2012 00:11 IST