Old school education norms

A new school building in a village as replacement for the old structure, officially dilapidated but in perfectly sound condition, symbolises the state of education in Sheragada

Sarthak Ray / For The Goan | FEBRUARY 02, 2013, 10:42 AM IST

There is no flat, dreary government school building inPuruna Pitala village in Sheragada block of Odisha’s Ganjam district. Actually,there is. Only it is locked and hidden from view off the road by the new,two-storey building of sober beige with maroon highlights. Old colours, but newtrimmings.

The old building stands locked, perfectly fine from theoutside if not for its dowdy structure. Ashwini Kumar Mishra, the districtproject coordinator for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), says education fundsbarely go unspent. But at the local level, the village education committees(the citizens’ body overseeing education in government schools at the villagelevel) allege that bills for construction work are pending for many schools —and some dating back from 2006.

Manoranjan Panda, a member of the village educationcommittee, says though the new building has been equipped with a fan and a tubelight in each of the two classrooms, ironically the building has no connectionto the grid. “The light and fan are just fixtures,” he says.  The old building is being used as a mess hallfor midday meals for students.

“According to SSA, the teacher to student ratio is 1:40. TheRight to Education (RTE) Act has revised it to 1:30,” Basantilata Sahoo, theheadmistress (in-charge) and one of the two teachers for the school’s 58students from classes I to V says. “In a school like ours, the norms justincrease the workload for the teachers. We fit in the fifth and fourthstandards in one room and the first, second and third in the other.  I have to alternate between two classes allthe time — while I teach one, students in the other are given some tasks tocomplete.” On days one of the teachers has to take a leave, the other has tomanage all five classes, she adds. 

It is not just in Purana Pitala that education has been leftso rudderless. Almost all of Sheragada faces the same challenge. Of the 137primary and upper primary schools and the four high schools with classes VI toX, only 12 have a permanent appointee at the head teaching and administrativeposts. The rest make do with ‘in-charges’.

Norms seem to be the spanner in the works here, too. Thepost of headmaster/headmistress is open to only teachers who hold a graduationdegree in education, a B.Ed. But most are like the one in Purana Pitala — Sahoois not even a graduate; she holds an intermediate degree. So the norms rule outthe appointment of these teachers as the school head while they are forced toserve as in-charges for long periods.

A visit to the block resource centre (the block-levelmonitoring office for SSA) fails to clear much of the confusion regardingexpenditure patterns, especially expenditure on school infrastructure.Officials say new buildings are being commissioned in instances where safetyinspections found the old buildings “dilapidated”.  The concern isn’t frivolous – five children,all below six years, died when a wall collapsed on them at an anganwadi centrein Suansia village of Nayagarh district in July. The state government could beserious in its efforts to pre-empt a repeat. But in the process is it not, asis evident from the Puruna Pitala case, throwing out the baby along with thebathwater?

inassociation with Governance Now

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