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Preparing for PM address: A school under a tree, another under plastic sheet

Struggling for space to run govt schools, Ludhiana teachers face new crisis.

teachersday While it drizzles, students sit with umbrellas under a tree at Government Primary School in Moti Nagar, Ludhiana.

On most days, students and teachers of the Government Primary School in Ludhiana’s Moti Nagar struggle to find empty spaces that can double up as  classrooms. When their school building was declared unsafe in July, the teachers initially shuffled the 180 students between a nearby gurdwara and a broken-down shed. But now they hold classes under a tree in an open ground in Moti Nagar, where the children are hunched under umbrellas and share space with garbage strewn on the grass.

This September 5, however, the teachers have an additional headache — they have to arrange for radios or television sets so that the students, from classes I to V, can listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address on Teachers Day.  “For some time, we held classes in a nearby gurdwara, but then they disallowed us. The education department says new classrooms will be built but they don’t know when. When it rains, classes are stopped mid-way and students are sent home,” explained a teacher requesting anonymity.

All five classes are held under one tree, the only one there. The school has two teachers for the 180 students, most of them children of migrant workers employed in the local industries. There are no toilets and drinking water is obtained from the unsafe building which has a municipal connection.

All thoughts however are on the logistics for Teachers Day. “The education department says speak loudly and teach the students but how are we to do that when a tree is a classroom for five classes at one time. As for Teachers Day, even if we hire a TV for a few hours, from where are we going to access a cable connection or dish feed.  Who is going to pay for the expenses? If the TV is borrowed and it starts raining, who will pay for the damaged TV set? We have no solution at present. Maybe we will YouTube the speech on our mobile phones but even then how will 180 students hear,” said another teacher.

Without a roof for 17 years

Conditions at the Government Primary School on Jail Road in Ludhiana’s Field Ganj aren’t much different. The school is run in the open, under a plastic sheet supported on bamboo sticks. Amreek Kaur, in charge of the school, said there are 94 children in five classes, two teachers and an attendant. She is now looking for someone who could lend them a radio set for a few hours on Friday afternoon.

Although a teacher, Amreek Kaur says she also sweeps and cleans the open ground in front of the ruins of the school building which was declared unsafe in 1997. There are no toilets and no arrangements for drinking water.

Kaur added they had been asked to hire a TV set with a generator, but points out that it will be useless without a cable connection or satellite dish. “The children used to sit on the ground until someone donated old benches a few months ago. The roof develops holes frequently. I recently bought replaced it for Rs 1,100.  There was no place to cook the mid-day meal, so we spent Rs 11,000 and made some arrangement in the ruins of the old building to prepare food,” she said.

We have stopped complaining. There are occasions when we come in the morning and find drug addicts lying here, even bodies have been found here. Students get wet whenever it rains and we have to declare the school closed. Every day is a new battle for the students and us,” she added.

On arrangements regarding the Prime Minister’s address, she said, “We will borrow a radio for a few hours, but will class I and II students really listen to and understand what Modi says? What if it starts raining? We do not have a roof. All 94 students sit in one place,” Kaur said.

53 years and counting

Harpreet Kaur, the lone class V student at the Government Primary School, Dharampura, knows who Narendra Modi is and wants to listen to his speech on Teacher’s Day. “Wo hamare pradhan mantri hain. Haan, hum unhe sunana chahte hain,” says Harpreet, who has to share her lessons with her schoolmates in classes I, II, III and IV as the school does not have a building of its own.

Running in a congested hall of Guru Ravidas Dharamshala for the last 53 years, the school has only two teachers. “Now the colony residents want us to leave the dharamshala. The owners ask us to vacate the hall whenever there is a marriage or death in the area. There are occasions when I have paid for the mid-day meal rations because I cannot keep the children hungry; they are from migrant families of UP and Bihar,” said Sukhwinder Kaur, the headmistress. Asked about Modi’s address, she said that the school had a radio which would be used.

But how will the small kids stay in the school till 3 pm? They are otherwise let go by 12.45 pm. They become feel sleepy after having the mid-day meal. The timing is not suitable for them,” said Kanwalpreet, their teacher.

The TV rule (Box)

As many as 588 primary schools in Ludhiana have radios but the ‘verbal orders’ from the Education Department are that  they must arrange for television sets. “A format has arrived from the Centre on which we have to fill up how many students listened to the PM on TV, radio, EDUSAT, internet etc. The radio is an option, but the Punjab Education Department has invented its own rule and given verbal orders to district education officers that a TV and genset have to be arranged,” said a teacher. Some schools in the villages are planning to take the children to the sarpanch’s home. Others don’t know how they will arrange a TV and genset, since it is not clear who will pay for it. In any case, the TV set is no use without a cable connection, which most schools do not have. Officials admit that they are aware of the reality, but add that they are just following instructions. Gurjot Singh, Ludhiana district education officer (primary), said, “Yes, we have directed schools to arrange for a TV and a genset. We have no information till now on who will pay for the TV and the genset but schools have to arrange these anyhow.’’

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