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Part 2: The Single Teacher Schools Of Tamil Nadu

With more than 300 schools running on single teachers, Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu is a case study on how the future of coming generations are being ruined thanks to state apathy.

Hundreds of vacancies remain unfilled, while students and teachers struggle to get and impart a basic education.

The big strides Tamil Nadu had been making in the socio-economic and educational indicators over the past decades seems all set to move in the reverse direction.

Schools which once produced doctors and bureaucrats are now producing students who are unable to read or write, leave alone passing class 10.

In the second part of the series, The Lede listens to the parents as to how they see things unfolding.

The Sorry Plight Of The Parents

“Out of the people who studied in this school 30 years back, five went on to become doctors, one has gone on to become IG (Inspector General) level officer in EB (Electricity Board), one has cleared IAS, another is an auditor,” says Shivakumar P, a resident of Kuppachiparai near Guruburapalli in Krishnagiri district about the illustrious alumni of the village middle school having classes from I to VIII.

“But if you see, for the past ten years those studying here have not even gone on to join military or police.”

“It is all due to the fall in quality of education,” adds in another villager. “People are failing in 10th itself now,” he says. “Good teachers are the foundation for quality education. It is sad that we don’t have that anymore. It is becoming difficult for people to live in the village itself because of these things,” he says.

The villagers of Kuppachiparai have been at loggerheads with the teachers of the village middle school owing to the falling standards of education their wards have been receiving.

“When we ask the teachers why they are not attending to the students well, they call one or two students who have joined from English medium schools and make them read,” alleges M Rajkumar.

“Then they will tell us, look these students are reading well, your children are not. This makes the parents think that the problem is with their own children who are not studying well or are thick. But they will always call up the same two or three students and make them read. Even if our children are unintelligent, it is the duty of the teachers to sit with them and give them a helping hand,” he says. “Here it doesn’t happen at all.”

“Shouldn’t they teach those who needs help?” he asks. “It is pointless to use two or three students to win medals and then showcase it as some kind of an achievement,” he says.

The reason behind the ire against the teachers in Kuppachiparai stems from the realisation that even those who are projected as smart in the school till 8th standard end up as the lowest scorers when they shift to high schools. The shock failures cause the students to eventually drop out altogether.

“My eldest son studied in the school till 8th,” says V Markandan. “When he had been put in the school after studying for a while in Saraswati School, he had been doing well. I had put him here as they had told that they had better coaching for students, was close to home and had no fees,” he says. “My son was soon made the leader and made to run around for all school related work by the teachers here.”

“When asked, they had told me that he was good at studies and there was nothing to worry about. But once he joined the high school in Guruburapalli the teacher there asked me why he had never been taught well. He was not even able to read or write like the other students of his class there. That is when I realised what this school had been doing to him and others like him.

All the students who joined the school there from this school had been facing the same problems. But the teachers here were happy to show them off as smart students. When we asked the teacher in Gurubarapalli to teach my son and help him improve, he told me, see I can try, you also try, but there is only so much one can do at this age. If I pressurise too much or act strictly, teenagers these days don’t like that,” says Markandan.

“He had a point. My son should have been taught at the age when he should have been taught,” he says. That is when I realised even if the case of my eldest son is lost, the same plight should not befall the others coming up from the village. The teachers here use smarter children as substitute teachers, helpers and peons. In the end the children learn nothing and end up wasting their precious years. This has to be stopped.”

The dependency of teachers on fast learners to make do with the lack of sufficient staff has come under attack ever since.

“I too studied in the same school. People who studied here before us went on to do well in life,” says V Senthilkumar, another parent. “The reason why students now are worse off is that out of the total students studying here only a few are able to read and write properly, all the others know nothing at all. I am a parent, I am telling you. My own child is studying there. What the teachers do is, whenever someone comes for inspection, they will call one or two from amongst the smart students and make it appear as if everything is well and good.”

“1st, 2nd and 3rd standard students are all being made to sit together and attend classes,” says Senthilkumar. “Won’t the students get confused as to who is being taught?” he asks.

“How will they understand whatever is being taught? Each class should be made to sit separately and taught. How can you allow this to happen? We had asked in writing for separate classes for each standard to be imposed,” he says. “Nothing came out of it.”

For many parents like M Rajkumar the first goal is to prevent their own plight from befalling their children.

“I first studied ABCD in 6th standard after leaving this school,” he says. “I failed in 12th but I passed 10th because of the teachers in the school there. Should I allow my children to face the same fate?” he asks.

“When we organised protests three months back I told the CEO (Chief Education Officer) that if we don’t send our wards to the school, the school itself won’t exist. So give us more teachers. She asked for a month’s time. It has been three months now. Nothing has been done. They sent one extra teacher which made the total number of teachers here 4. Is it enough?

There are 176 students studying in the school here. If one were to follow the central government rule which say 1 teacher per 30 students, you can see that 4 teachers can be made to teach 120 students only. What should the other 56 students do? Who is going to teach them?”

“When we ask these people, they say there is shortage of teachers. Government is saying there is excess of teachers. What is the real issue here? Do they not want students to study? Either they should send more teachers here or else we will transfer our children out of here to a school which has enough teachers. Why should we waste our children’s future by teaching them in this dumpyard?” asks Rajkumar.

“There is no point trying to correct things later in life after growing up useless,” says P Maheswaran another parent and resident of Kuppachiparai.

“Only if the starting is good can results be good. That is why I am saying there is shortage of teachers here which needs to be solved immediately. Classes have to be conducted on time. What is happening now is that even after the assembly at 9 o’ clock, the students can be seen roaming around in the village and thereabouts as late as 11 o’ clock. The students are roaming around on bicycles and whatnot without the knowledge of their parents. To ensure that such issues no longer crop up, sufficient teachers have to be posted. If the government doesn’t post new teachers this year too, we will take our kids and admit them in convent schools,” says Rajkumar.

“We are willing to spend if it gets them good education,” he says. “We have done everything the school had been asking. But the moment we start asking questions, they stop calling us for PTA meetings. One teacher is enough to shape a thousand lives, but if that teacher itself is not there what do we do?” he asks.

All parents say they are willing to give it their all to ensure that their children get a good education. Especially pained are parents whose elder children have suffered from poor quality education.

“The villagers will do whatever we can to ensure the proper working of the school. That is what we want,” says Maheswaran.

While angry parents want a teacher per class, the situation in Krishnagiri district and many other schools in the vicinity suggest, it might never happen.While hundreds of schools in Krishnagiri district continue to suffer from acute shortage in teachers resulting in a spate of understaffed schools and teachers coping with the limited manpower, the school in Kuppachiparai is still better placed with four teachers for 176 students.

Though the parents are fuming, with no leverage to bargain with the state, their threats do not pack sufficient punch.While they threaten to pull their wards out of the school and admit them elsewhere, except for one parent who spoke to The Lede, none of the others have private schools in mind.

Reason? The exorbitant fees (Rs 6000 is a standard rate), bus fares and travel time involved.The parents all being involved with low income farm related activities, the mainstay of the village, financing their many children’s private education is too big a burden. It is the same calculation that the many parents sending their children to government schools across Krishnagiri have done in their minds.

For villages which literally have a handful of buses plying through the day, any journey to the nearby town where most private schools are seems distant to begin with. But the flurry of yellow school buses which The Lede encountered in even the most distant and remote villages suggests that there is a thriving market which is taking off from the debris left behind by the mess that government school education has become.

The only question that remains to be answered is what will become of those students whose parents cannot afford to shift to private school education? Has the government shrugged off its responsibility of providing quality and affordable primary education?

The parents of the students of Kuppachiparai are planning to organise other parents in the vicinity whose children too are studying in other understaffed schools and organise protests in the district headquarters. Their protests a few months back had been met with assurances not amounting to solutions. Whether it will be different this time will be crucial in deciding the next leg in the history of government school education and the future of many hapless children.

If the previous generation suffered as their ancestors did not understand the value of education, the present generation will suffer and see the helplessness pushing the parents to despair who inspite of trying seem doomed to fail.

Primary education is the most crucial for any young child. This is the foundation that preps the child for competitive exams and complex concepts later in life.

It is due to growing concern about the quality of tertiary and secondary education in Tamil Nadu that the All India Anna Dravida Kazhagam government appointed a team led by retired Professor Anandakrishnan to look into the issues and suggest changes to the curriculum.

It is unfortunate that while the state government has acknowledged the problem to an extent, the foundation of education is being severely disregarded.

It is the state’s responsibility to ensure quality education for children, especially primary education. Having been the pioneering force behind progressive ideas such as the noon meal scheme and having brought students back to school, treating them in such cavalier fashion does not bode well for the generations to come.

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