Darkness at noon

Most children don't go to schools, roofless schools with no drinking water, massive drop-out rate and low enrolment of girls marks the abysmal educational record of Mayawati's UP
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow

Out of two lakh schools in UP, over 1,500 are without drinking water facilities. Shocked at the plight of the students, especially in rural areas, some officials of the primary education department have written to the higher authorities to make urgent arrangements for setting up tubewells in these schools to provide drinking water to children.

"It is difficult to comprehend the priorities of the Mayawati government which spent Rs 2,600 crore on building memorials and parks, including her own statues, but had no money to provide drinking water to students going to schools," said a teacher in Lucknow.

Apart from drinking water, the latest report of the Union HRD ministry says that out of the 23,000 government schools in the country being run under an 'open sky' and without any roof, 2,200 are in UP. The report said that under the national campaign of 'Sarv Siksha Abhiyan' (education for all), grant was given for repairing 6,800 elementary schools all over the country. However, the dilapidated schools largely continue to remain in disrepair, open to the elements of nature.

Children attending these 'open schools' without any infrastructure, including toilet facilities or drinking water provisions, is a common sight on any highway in UP. According to a study, parents in rural areas hesitate to send their daughters to such schools. Hence, the number of girl students is very low.

The Planning Commission of India in its report, 'Roadmap for rapid development of Uttar Pradesh' pointed out that the present status of education and human development in the state is far from satisfactory. The report said that the quality of education remains poor. Independent studies have revealed that the ability of students is extremely poor in reading, writing, mathematical calculations, among other skills. There were deficiencies in the implementation of the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan scheme.

In many cases, schools have been opened to achieve the targeted goals, but the required physical facilities are lacking. Along with constraints in physical facilities, the low teacher-student ratio is compounded by high absenteeism. Students' interest in studies is abysmal, and there seems to be no mechanism or structure to change the situation.

According to the Education Development Index (EDI) for primary and upper primary schools of different states using 23 indicators related to access, infrastructure, teachers and outcome, UP ranks a depressing 27 at the primary level, and is ranked 30 in case of upper primary level. It is ranked 29 in terms of the combined index out of 35 states.

The report pointed out that secondary education has been the weakest link in the entire range of formal education. The drop-out rate after high school examination is very high, which calls for rethinking about the extension and diversification of secondary education in the state known for its crumbling infrastructure and an absurdly inefficient administration, something which has remained unchanged through successive years of various regimes.

An estimated 10 lakh high schools students do not join higher secondary education. 'Re-routing' is required at this level so that students completing high school examinations are engaged in an alternative stream of education which may be more fruitful for them and also beneficial to the society, argue experts. Ironically, if the enrolment ratio improves and the demand for secondary education rises, the facilities may fall short of requirement. The quality of education at this level also leaves much to be desired.

There is a huge shortage of girls high schools in UP. The absence is stark. In all, 426 development blocks have been identified where higher schools for girls lack basic facilities and infrastructure.

Indeed, the Planning Commission report has identified major challenges in primary education for the state government. The question is, will the BSP-led government at all take any productive action?

  • The physical infrastructure of schools needs to be substantially upgraded in terms of classrooms, toilet facilities, playgrounds, computers and other facilities.
  • Attention should now turn towards improvement in the quality of education so that learning skills of students can improve.
  • There is heavy dependence on para teachers called 'shiksha mitra' who should be replaced by regular teachers. At least 50 per cent of teachers should be women.
  • There is shortage of trained teachers. Creative teacher training programmes have to be taken up in a big way.
  • Attention has to be paid to reduce the gender gap in education.
  • Focus on removing educational backwardness of the minorities and backward social groups.
  • The working of mid-day meal schemes needs to be drastically improved. Often, complaints are received about poor quality of food. Cases of food poisoning have been reported. In some schools, the food is provided through private contractors or NGOs. Adequate provisions like utensils and kitchen do not exist in many schools. These problems need to addressed promptly.
  • Large number of children are out of school. Special efforts are needed to enroll them.
  • Regular attendance of students must be ensured. Studies show that 40 to 50 per cent of students are not present as a routine.
    • Teacher absenteeism is a serious issue and must be stopped immediately.  

The educational sector in UP is characterised by low literacy rates with sharp differentials between males and females, social groups and rural and urban areas. The Planning Commission report says that 69 per cent of rural females and 39 per cent of urban females are illiterate. The corresponding figure for males is 36 per cent in rural and 20 per cent in urban areas.

In as many as 56 out of 70 districts, more then half of the female population is illiterate. Among males, the literacy rate varies from 46 per cent in Shravasti, to 83 per cent in Gautam Budh Nagar district. Female literacy varies from 25 per cent in Badaun, to 67 per cent in Kanpur city. Many districts in eastern UP and some minority-dominated districts in western UP have extremely low literacy rates.

Only 15 per cent of rural and 37 per cent of urban people have received education up to the secondary level or above. Only 14 per cent of urban and 2.8 per cent of rural people have received education till the graduate level. These figures are a telling commentary on the low status of human development in UP.

More shocking is that even now 20 per cent of urban children and 22.9 per cent of rural children in the age group of 5-14 are not attending school. The proportion of children and youth attending educational institutions drops sharply as one moves to the higher level of education. Thus, only 50 per cent of urban youth and 42 per cent of rural youth in the age group of 15-19 are attending any educational institution in UP. This proportion drops sharply to 16 per cent and 8.3 per cent in urban and rural areas in case of the age-group of 20-24.

Combine this hopeless and bleak scenario with abjectly pathetic development indices in terms of quality of life, health and standard of living, spiced up with a defunct and inefficient bureaucracy, widely accused to be cold-bloodedly insensitive and often corrupt, and a ruling and opposition political apparatus which cares two hoots apart from its myopic vested interests, and the vicious cycle of condemnation of one of the largest states of India is complete. And the dark irony is, there is not an iota of hope that things will improve in this dark democracy.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JANUARY 2010