Fifteen minutes from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation head office, there’s a two-storeyed building, painted in yellow with sections of the tin roof covering its front verandah missing. A portion of its boundary wall is completely broken and a green cloth has taken its place. This is the state of one of the many primary schools run by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.
Already grappling with the dwindling number of student enrollment that has led to increasing number of closures and mergers of schools each year, the schools run by the civic body in Ahmedabad are in a sorry state of affairs.
In the 2007-08 academic year, the total number of municipal schools in the city was 450 with 1.63 lakh students. The number rose to 471 schools in 2009-10, but by 2016-17 the number of students fell to 1.53 lakh, and the number of schools also dropped to 455. With further reduction of over 84 schools, the highest ever, it has now declined to merely 371 this year, with number of students declining to 1.24 lakh students. (See graph below)
From 55 in 2010-11, the number of pre-primary schools have dropped to only 16 in in 2017-18. Similarly, from 2,200 students in these schools, the number has now dropped to 500 students, and is expected to further decline.
To overcome this, and tackle growing competition from private “English medium” schools that have been mushrooming across the city, the municipal school board’s focus in the last half decade has been on how to stop the exodus of students, if not reverse this declining trend.
With private schools promising “affordable education in English medium” to lower middle class and even economically weaker sections that once constituted the majority of students in the municipal board-run schools, the AMC has been focusing on setting up new English medium schools, putting an unequal quantum of resources and manpower into these schools, instead of focusing on improving the quality of education and infrastructure of the existing schools.
The first English medium school was opened by the AMC at Shahpur in 2013. Four years later, the number of English medium schools has jumped to 15. These schools have been sustaining and flourishing at the cost of other medium schools such as Gujarati, Sindhi, Hindi and even Urdu medium schools that cater to a mix of communities who have settled in Ahmedabad since decades.
Sindhi medium primary schools have already lost their existence — from over 25 schools with nearly 5,000 students and around 200 teachers a decade ago to zero in Ahmedabad today.
Similarly, there has been a steady decline in number of Urdu medium municipal schools since 2001-02 when its number was highest at 92 with nearly 30,000 students. At present, the number of Urdu medium schools is 62.
Other medium schools too face a similar fate. At present, there are 67 Hindi medium municipal schools with 23,908 students. The number of Marathi schools has declined to 10 and Tamil three.
Citing “insufficient” number of students, the AMC has started to merge and shut schools. The number of schools has now dropped to 377 that operates from 213 premises. The recent merger, affecting the largest number of schools ever, was, however, to address the shortage of “head teachers” (principals). “There were several schools running from one campus and during the same shift… After merging some of them, we have not only resolved the shortage of school heads but also other administrative staff. Which in a way makes sense and will increase class periods from 39 to 45 in a week,” L D Desai, administrative officer, AMC School Board, said.
The AMC school board, however, blames the steady decline of students on the Right to Education Act. According to the board, the law led many parents to get their children admitted to English medium private schools as under the Act, the schools have to allot certain number of seats to economically weaker sections. “This year, we lost 10,000 students to private schools under the RTE Act which otherwise would have been admitted to our municipal schools,” said Desai.
Though AMC board authorities claim that schools have fared “best” in the state during ‘Gunotsav’ — the annual evaluation drive conducted by the state education department — the situation on the ground is different.
Ruing at the lack of quality education in municipal schools, Rameshbhai Parmar, a resident of Shahpur slum area, said, “There’s no denying the fact that municipal school teachers are more qualified than those in private schools, but look at their workload other than teaching. Be it any government event, they are the first to be roped in along with students. You will find them engrossed in paper and documentation work in school but teaching.”
Ratnaben Thakore, a resident of Sabarmati area, works as a domestic help. Her two children, aged seven and ten years, go to a private school nearly four km away from their house.
“There was a time when students of municipal schools would become doctors and engineers, but now look at the state of education there. I do not want to spoil the careers of my children by sending them to municipal schools even if no fee is charged and students are provided free meals, given free books and uniforms. Though the AMC has started to run English medium schools, the trust factor remains missing,” she said.
According to Bhailal Prajapati, a resident of Vadaj, the school board has not paid attention to basic facilities. “Instead of focussing on programmes like smart learning and science laboratory on wheel, if the school board would have paid attention on basic facilities like pre-primary classes and basic computer knowledge, these would have retained the students. A parent like me who runs an auto-rickshaw for a living would not want my children to study in a municipal school. I will put them in private schools even if I have to spend most of my earning on their education,” he said.
Despite receiving flak for declining education standards and plummeting student enrollment, the AMC school board in its 2016-17 budget allotted only 1.20 per cent of the total Rs 660 crore budgetary amount on “student development”. Over 90 per cent of the amount or Rs 604.43 crore was allocated for maintenance cost (establishment expenses), and 2 per cent or Rs 12.85 crore for teachers.
In the 2014-15 budget, student development received 2.44 per cent of the total budget money, which was reduced to 1.49 per cent in the 2016-17 budget, and further reduced to 1.20 per cent in the current financial year. In contrast, Rs 7 crore has been proposed for items like microphone worth 95 lakh, roll of honour school achievement board (Rs 1 crore), newspaper and magazine stand (Rs 25 lakh each), staff rack (Rs 1 crore), attached bathroom with principal’s office (Rs 2.5 crore), podium (Rs 25 lakh), soft board (Rs 15 lakh), health kit (Rs 15 lakh), stationery kit (Rs 15 lakh) and bulletin board (Rs 10 lakh).
“The AMC school board itself does not want its schools to do good. This is to benefit private schools which are being run by their own people and relatives who have commercialised education,” said Ahesan Shaikh, president of Students Welfare and Education Trust. On new schemes like including smart classes, green school, child-friendly schools, Shaikh said: “This is also done to benefit their own people. As tenders are passed which then go to the selected few. Quality education is not the motive.”
SAFETY & SECURITY: No CCTVs, only placards on premises
The recent incident of a Class III girl allegedly being raped by her teacher at a school run by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has brought to fore the civic body school board’s apathy towards safety and security of students on school premises, which is further evident from the fact that the board has failed to install closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in its school.
This despite the board announcing and keeping aside funds for installing CCTV cameras in its annual budget for the last five years. The best the municipal school board has been able to do is install the cameras in its office compound, and not in the schools.
For its over 450 schools, the board has a better solution. It has installed placards at the school entrance announcing “the school building is under the surveillance of CCTV cameras” without actually installing one. “The process of installing CCTV cameras is on in the schools. For the time being, these display boards with the warning have been put up as we have observed that these have been successful as a deterrent against miscreants who think CCTV cameras are installed in the school,” said AMC School Board Administrative Officer L D Desai.
In its 2013-2014 budget, the AMC school board for the first time announced that CCTVs will be installed on 25 school premises, and sanctioned Rs 25 lakh. However, not a single CCTV camera was installed.
The following year, it sanctioned Rs 50 lakh. But with no expenses incurred, the school board in its 2015-16 budget increased the amount to Rs 1 crore. In this year’s budget too, the board has sanctioned Rs 1 crore for installing CCTV cameras.
Meanwhile, concerned over the safety of their children, parents in areas like Asarwa and Behrampura have pooled money to install CCTV cameras in nearby schools. “During the parents-teachers meeting, it was decided to install cameras with their support. We also sought funds from some social organisations,” said a teacher.
CLEANLINESS: No soaps, and in few no clean drinking water
An alarming 80.7 per cent primary schools run by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) don’t have soaps and 53 per cent have no functional wash basins in their toilets. Moreover, a whopping 86 per cent schools lack toilets for children with special needs or physically challenged, according to the ‘Swachh School Survekshan-2017’ that was carried under Ahmedabad Sanitation Action Lab (ASAL) — the joint programme of US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Urban Management Centre (UMC) in July and August.
The survey, which reviewed 371 primary schools run by the AMC School Board on 213 premises, also found that only 3.3 per cent of them had dustbins in their toilets. A high percentage of boys toilets (52.6 per cent) and girls toilets (49.3 per cent) were found bad under “overall cleanliness of toilet blocks” category. Only 2.3 per cent boys toilets and 4.2 per cent girls toilets were rated good in that category.
In these 371 primary schools, 1,24,928 students are enrolled, and girls constitute 51.7 per cent — 64,640 girls. While 147 schools or 69 per cent of them have functional RO plants for drinking water, in 34 schools (16 per cent), the RO plant was not working. In 32 schools (15 per cent), there were no RO plant at all.
The ASAL, working in partnership with the AMC and the Gujarat government, aims to improve quality and maintenance of toilets in municipal schools. “At USAID, we strongly believe that clean sanitation is not a privilege, but a right that must be available to all. This is just the beginning. The groundwork has been laid by UMC. I’m confident that students, teachers and the community members will carry this work forward and make sure that sanitation remains a priority,” Ramona El Hamzaoui, USAID Deputy Mission Director to India, said on the release of the report.