A microphone in hand and the school identity card on a tag around his neck, principal of a municipal school in Surat, Chandrashekhar Nikam, goes about societies in Pandesara area occupied by migrants. In Marathi, he urges parents to get their children enrolled in municipal schools “if your child, who was in a private school, was forced to suspend his or her education due to financial crisis or issue of fees due to the pandemic”.
Nikam, who also explains the benefits of putting children in a municipal school, is accompanied by two other school teachers — Chandrakant Jadav and Sanjay Sawant.
Due to the Covid pandemic, admissions to Class 1 in municipal schools have been low in Pandesara, forcing teachers to launch a door-to-door campaign. From June 13, Nikam and his colleagues began this campaign in Nagsennagar and Avivbhav nagar societies from 8 am to 9.30 am with the prospect of attracting children to municipal schools.
Nikam and his colleagues are teachers of Marathi medium school No. 222 and 255, run by Surat Municipal School Board, running Classes 1 to 8 in two buildings. The schools have a total of around 350 students in Marathi medium. There are two municipal schools on a single campus in Nagsennagar and four other private schools — three English med-ium and one Marathi medium.
Nagsennagar in Pandesara has the largest number of Marathi speaking people. Nikam walks a street where parents go about their daily chores, while a few children watch curiously as he talks about how admission is free and school uniforms, shoes and books are provided free of cost, and a scholarship of Rs 1,100 is given to each student. Other male teachers distribute pamphlets highlighting the benefits of studying in a municipal school.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Nikam said, “We have started having problems in admissions to Class 1 since the academic year 2020 when we got just 20 students… due to the Covid pandemic, a large number of people had left the city. Due to the lockdown, we could not campaign, but this year due to the relaxations, we have launched a drive…”
“Earlier there was no issue of admission in our schools as we would easily get 40 to 50 students in Class 1 and we have had to increase the number of classes. The residents here are mostly from poor financial background who do petty jobs, leaving their children at home with grandparents. Hence we chose morning time for the awareness campaign so that we could reach the parents,” Nikam said.
The principal said that the Marathi medium school got 20 admissions in the past few days. “While visiting them, we compare the expenses at a private school and at our school… In private schools, they have to pay school fees, spend for books, and other expenses, while here everything is free of cost. We also explain to the parents that if they want their children to study in the English medium school, we give them the address of an English medium municipal school,” he added.
Sawant clarifies that the campaign is of their own volition. “We have not been told by our administrative officer to campaign. Our motive is that nobody should be deprived of education. We also go to other neighbouring areas where Hindi-speaking people reside and convince parents to get their children registered with municipal schools. Majority of the people in Pandesara speak Hindi and Marathi.”
The SMC runs schools in Hindi, English and Marathi mediums to cater to the economically weaker sections and migrant population that is also the backbone of the city’s economy. These schools provide education till Class 8 while Suman schools also run by the SMC run classes till Class 10 even in Marathi medium. “The income of many people had shrunk due to the pandemic… Hence we started a campaign for free education,” said Sawant.
He added, “In the past few days, we have got 10 new admissions each in school number 222 and 255. We will continue the awareness drive and we are also getting admissions to Class 3 as well. We are slowly getting response from the public and we are hopeful that we will succeed in our attempt.”
Surat Municipal School Board administrative officer Vimal Desai said, “This academic year, we are facing problems with admission that will last till August. Principal and teachers are putting their efforts and we are hopeful of getting results in the coming months. We appreciate the attempt made by principal Chandrashekhar Nikam and his team.”
In June 2020, as reported by this newspaper, when admissions began for Class 1, the Surat Municipal School Board saw a drop in enrollment from 19,063 to 10,284 even after several students were shifted from private schools to municipal schools due to financial stress. Hindi medium schools saw a drop of 78 per cent, followed by Odiya medium at 76 per cent, Marthi at 43.6 per cent, Urdu 41.5 per cent, Gujarati 40 per cent and English at 38.5 per cent.
Of the 329 municipal schools, 202 schools are of Gujarati med-ium with 92,569 students. Mara-thi medium has 55 schools with 28,143 students, Hindi medium 25 schools with 16,140 students, Urdu medium 28 schools with 16,748 students, Odiya medium 7 schools with 3,343 students, Telu-gu medium 3 schools with 173 students, and English medium 9 schools with 3,414 students.