The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (Article 21A) was brought in by Parliament on 2010, yet this basic constitutional right is still denied to many students across the country. States that have a low rate of literacy often suffer even more, ensuring a rich-get-richer-poor-get-poorer as they are often under-funded and are not given the resources or facilities to incorporate larger numbers. When the government does not step up in funding, it often falls on the faculty and local community to provide, which is far more difficult if the community is a small village with many low-income families. In a bid to keep 140 children in school, locals of the Fatehpur Awana village in Ludhiana are helping their community by paying rent in a new three-room building.
The school’s original building was deemed unsafe, according to Punjab and Haryana High Court rulings, and was demolished last September. A report by Times Of India (TOI) states that the government is yet to release funds to reconstruct said building. This, inspite of Punjab’s literacy rate being at 81% for men and 71% for women as of a 2011 census.
With the exception of one room in the old building, which is used to teach Class I, the rest of the students are taught at the rented property, which is located close to the school. The teachers were also willing to help with the finances of running the school, but the locals took it upon themselves to pay. The rent costs Rs. 5000 monthly. A resident called Balwinder Singh, 61, volunteered to pay the rent twice to ensure that the students wouldn’t be affected. A Gurdwara was initially approached, but turned them down, so the villagers opted to rent 3 rooms in a building instead.
The lack of funding does more than just prevent much-needed reconstruction. Existing establishments, like the Government Primary school in Danansu, also suffer when bills of Rs.19000 for electricity go unpaid for eight years, as reported by The Indian Express. With no power, children are forced to bring buckets of water from home to drink, cook meals and clean toilets. They also have to sit through classes without fans, using their books as makeshift fans. Local Panchayats often do not help, saying the government is responsible.
As of now, the rented building in Fatehpur Awana can only accommodate half of the 50 students in Class III. The rest sit in the corridor. Schoolteachers had to borrow 20 chairs from a small local private school, that had been shut down last month. The rest of the students sit on mats. The new school does not have any desks.A grant for construction work for 155 classrooms have been approved, according to a report by TOI.
Representational feature image courtesy of Akshara Foundation
Words: Divija Mohan