What’s Ailing Primary Education in Rural India: A Case Study of a Government-run Primary School in Allapur Village, Telangana

Almost a decade after the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 was passed, it becomes pertinent to review and analyse the levels of implementation of the RTE Act, 2009 and constraints in its effective implementation. This study observed an increase in the overall enrolment rates in a government-run primary school in Allapur village in Telangana; however, the lack of basic amenities like toilets, safe drinking water and unhygienic surroundings is a matter of concern. The quality of education was far behind as there was a shortage of teachers, lack of innovative practices of teaching, reluctant school administration authorities and lack of motivation from the parents. These problems need to be addressed to promote the right for quality education for each child. We learned from the observations that providing a school building and midday meals is not the solution. What is needed is a focus on how to make the community realise the importance of quality education in primary years and instil the habit of using toilets and safe drinking water to maintain proper hygiene in the foundation years. 

India passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) almost a decade ago, making education a fundamental right, and ensuring free and compulsory schooling and education for children from the age of six to 14. The act mandates an “all-weather” school building structure, and should include an office cum store for the head teacher, separate toilets for boys and girls, a kitchen for cooking the free midday meal that the children are provided, safe and adequate drinking water facility for all children, and barrier-free access (RTE Act, 2009). However, the situation on the ground is quite different. Since its implementation, the act has achieved success in terms of the overall enrolment rates but has been criticised for lapses related to effective administration and monitoring. Due to geographical locations, limited schooling options are available for students in their vicinity, and even if the schools do not satisfy the RTE norms, they remain the only option. Thus, irregularities and non-compliance must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis (Bhattacharjee 2019). A study on Karnataka reveals that the state had not fared above average neither infrastructure-wise nor with respect to quality education (Centre for Child and the Law 2018). In Hyderabad and other districts of Telangana, almost 94% of the schools have failed to comply with the 10 essential parameters under the RTE Act (Biswas 2019). 

This study is carried out with the aim to analyse the level of implementation of the RTE Act, 2009 and challenges encountered in its effective implementation in a government-run primary school in Telangana, and also focuses on the issues that hinder the overall growth and development of the students. The study is based on primary data collected during October-November 2018, from the different stakeholders of the government-run primary school in Allapur village in Telangana using questionnaires1. Focus group discussions were conducted with the gram panchayat officials and school authorities to get in-depth insights of issues faced in the functioning of the school. 

Village Profile

Allapur village is in Basheerbad block of Vikarabad district, Telangana. The village is located in a remote area with 143 households. Primary occupation of the village is agriculture and produces cotton, maize, paddy, millets and vegetables as main crops. The village had 24/7 electricity and one water tank. Mission Bhagiratha water pipelines have been laid but water supply is yet to start. However, there was no water problem. There was no primary health centre; the nearest place is Basheerabad, 2 kilometres away. The village had only one government-run primary school and the level of literacy was low.  

Quality of Education and Infrastructure 

The RTE Act, 2009 mandates that a school building should be an “all-weather” structure, and should include an office cum store for the head teacher. The investigator observed that the school had an all-weather building and had a separate office for the headmaster. The school had only two classrooms with two teachers. One teacher was assigned for Classes 1 and 2 and the other for Classes 3, 4 and 5. Each teacher would take all the subjects for their respective classes. Combined classes were held for Classes 1 and 2 in one classroom while Classes 3, 4 and 5 were held together. The children of Classes 1 and 2 squat on the floor of their classroom, while the other classroom was provided with tables and benches. It was also observed that the teachers were reluctant to teach and did not take proper attendance of the students. The method of teaching was not up to the mark. The investigator observed that the English teacher was teaching three letter words like cat, mat, bat to Classes 3, 4 and 5. The children of Classes 3, 4 and 5 could not even read a proper sentence in English from their books. This observation reiterates the findings of ASER(Annual Status of Education Report) reports for various years that Class 5 students find it difficult to read Class 2 English. The level of arithmetic was also low, where only single- and double-digit addition and subtraction was taught to Classes 3, 4 and 5. Some students were found sitting on the tables while the teacher was teaching in the class. The younger children were reluctantly sitting in the other class with their elder siblings and there was no one to monitor this, thus showing the lack of discipline in the school. The teacher informed that most of the parents were not interested in their children’s education, hence, they are totally dependent on the school for studies. Most of the parents were engaged in fields so they were not interested to visit the school as this would mean a cut in their one day’s wages. The school did not have any suggestion box installed that the students or parents could use to express their views. 

Class 1 and 2 Conducted Together
Classes 3, 4 and 5 Conducted Together and English Teacher Teaching Them Three-letter Words

The reluctant attitude of the teachers, school administration authorities and lack of motivation by the parents raises a question as to whether imparting education is even a matter of concern or just conducting classes is enough.

Midday Meals

Midday meals were provided to all the students that comprised rice and dal. According to the RTE Act, 2009, there should be a kitchen for cooking the free midday meal that children are provided with. However, the field observation was otherwise.  The midday meal was prepared in a store-like room where the food was cooked by one woman. There was no proper ventilation and the food was cooked on chullah using wood. The investigator was informed that this was the general practice of cooking midday meals in the school, which pointed towards energy poverty. The authorities did not show any concern about this issue.  The very fact that children were being provided with free midday meals was enough for the gram panchayat officials and school authorities. 

Other studies further substantiate these findings where a lack of adequate infrastructure facilities is observed with a non-availability of a separate kitchen, basic utensils and storage, water supply, coupled with inadequate staff who lack professional competence. Further, a robust monitoring system equipped with supervising authority is also unavailable. According to a study conducted by Drèze and Goyal (2003), food is prepared using a makeshift stove, instead of gas cylinders. The students are often made to chop vegetables and help the cook in preparing midday meals. Another study conducted by Afridi (2005) also mentioned that cooks prepare the food using firewood, creating a lot of smoke in the classrooms, which distracted students from studies. Some schools use an abandoned room in the school building to prepare the meals. 

Preparation of Midday Meals in the School Kitchen
Children Praying and Waiting for Lunch

One positive observation was that all the children were made to sit properly and pray before they were given the meal. The students waited patiently for their turns while the food was being served. Midday meals increase good habits of eating, handwash, cooperation and sharing (Sinha 2019), which was observed by the investigator. 

Water and Sanitation

The act mandates separate toilets for boys and girls and a safe and adequate drinking water facility for all children. There was no provision of drinking water inside the school premises. The school had a hand pump outside its premises, which was used for drinking, washing hands and also washing utensils after meals. 

The school had two toilets. No separate demarcation of girls’ and boys’ toilets. It was observed that both the toilets were locked and had been non-functional for almost a year. Thus, school children used open spaces near the school premises for defecation. They prefer going to fields and defecating in the open because they were habitual of practicing this. The principal of the school and the committee members mentioned that major repair work was needed to make the toilets functional. Since repair work is not included under the Swachh Bharat Mission and gram panchayat did not have sufficient funds, the toilets have not been functional for almost a year now. Discussions with gram panchayat members and other community members led us to realise their casual attitude towards using toilets. They did not seem to consider constructing toilets or using toilets as a priority. This points to their laid-back attitude towards the use of toilets. The teachers and the principal of this school along with other gram panchayat members and Swachh Bharat Mission in-charge did not show any concern towards repairing the toilets. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

The observation and findings from the interview and questionnaire show a wide gap between what was expected and what has been done so far. Infrastructure of the school and surrounding was not properly developed. The school was functioning without the facility of a toilet as the toilets were not functioning for several months. Instances of poor-quality food being cooked under unhygienic conditions, coupled with poor infrastructure facilities like kitchen shed and utensils, lack of safe drinking water, expose the students to health issues as well. 

The findings show some improvements in the enrolment ratio but the overall quality of education imparted remains a major concern. The students of the school were unaware of the importance of education and did not get encouragement from their parents, who themselves were mostly illiterate. Here, the role of school administration plays a key role. There was a shortage of teachers and the teachers lacked the suitable training to meet the requirements of the students. This problem needs to be addressed right away to promote the right to quality education for each child. 
The government should take up necessary measures to ensure that government-run schools do not lack behind private schools in imparting quality education. Teachers should be given special training to deal with students who come from economically weaker backgrounds in rural areas and be empathetic towards them. Not too many teachers from urban areas prefer to go to villages and teach. Thus, getting good teachers in such remote rural areas is a major issue. Hence, teachers should be given some special allowance that motivates them to teach in such remote areas. Capacity development within the village and proper monitoring should be done to ensure that the future of children is not being hampered. Teachers must be appreciated for instilling good values like hand washing, co-operation, sharing, etc. The students need to be sensitised about using toilets and not defecating in the open. It is essential to establish a school monitoring committee, including a  midday meal in-charge and teachers to check the quality of the food being prepared. It should also be ensured that students get midday meals as per the nutritional value prescribed by the government. A weak monitoring system threatens to cast a shadow on any programme. A lot of issues emanate from the fact that such programmes lack a robust monitoring system, thus making it essential to conduct regular field visits and inspection, social audits and a third-party evaluation and review. 

We learned from the observations that providing a school building and midday meals is not the solution. What is needed is a focus on how to make the community realise the importance of quality education in primary years and instil the habit of using toilets and safe drinking water to maintain a proper hygiene in the foundation years itself. The field observations raise further questions. In the current situation of COVID-19, where social distancing and maintaining hygiene in terms of proper handwashing, etc, are the new normal, do the government run schools in such remote areas have the ability to adapt to such a changing environment? Are such schools equipped enough to adopt online teaching methods? With the lack of innovative teaching-learning practices and proper internet connectivity, how do these schools continue to educate its students? Will proper hygiene in terms of handwashing with a soap, sanitisation of the school building and fully functional toilets be compromised? The road map to deal with such a situation is quite difficult and will require a lot of effort from not just the government and school administration authorities, but from the community as a whole. 

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