FOR THE children of Government Primary School in Rattewal village of Nawanshahr, this Christmas has brought some cheer. They will be the first bunch to sit on benches since the school was established – back in 1901.
Thanks to the school staff, the village panchayat and an NRI who played ‘Santa’ for the children – a majority of whom are from migrant families – they finally got benches in their school. This has been done without any government help as under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), there is no provision of funds for furniture for Classes I to V and it is not a component under national DISE report.
All children who passed out from the school studied sitting on the ground – even when it was too cold in winters and too hot in summers.
The school is situated in sub-mountainous Punjab, known as the ‘Kandi’ belt, around five km from Balachaur town. And even now this ‘luxury’ reached children not because of the education department but due to the efforts of the school staff and help from village panchayat who approached Khwahish – an organisation being run by a Canada-based NRI to help government schools in improving infrastructure.
A total of 57 benches for 114 children of Classes I-V have been purchased at a cost of Rs 57,000. The school management claimed that the request for benches was sent several times to the Punjab education department but it was never heeded.
“We get grants for the construction of classrooms, repair, toilets, playgrounds, water facility, computers, library etc but not for benches,” said Mohan Chand, head teacher of the school.
He added, “We got to know about an NRI who is helping government schools in the area and decided to contact him.”
He said he paid 50 per cent of the total cost while rest was arranged with contributions from school staff, panchayat and Khwahish organisation.
Shockingly, the central flagship programme (SSA) across the country for classes I-VIII, does not provide any grant for ‘furniture’ in primary schools that is classes I-V. While Rs 5.5 lakh are given to schools for construction of ACR (additional classroom) under which officials also have to buy 20 benches for seating arrangement of 40 children, there is however no separate grant for those schools who do not have benches.
Sources from Punjab education department said that earlier some grants for ‘floor mats’ used to come but now even they haven’t come for years.
Ranjit Singh, an official from SSA Punjab looking after primary section civil works, said, “We send requirements of schools during District Information System for Education (DISE) data collection and we do mention whichever schools need benches. However, there is no separate furniture component for primary schools under SSA. There is no account head under which we can claim funds for benches.”
Even the all-India level report on school education which is released by DISE under Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) annually does not have ‘benches’ under its facility-related parameters.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from Delhi, Dr Arun Mehta, professor and head, department of EMIS from the National University of Educational Planning and Administration and supervisor DISE, said, “DISE report does not include benches and seating arrangement for children in schools. Schools should ensure that children do not sit on the ground in winters and even otherwise but we do not release data on benches facility in schools of India. It is shocking if schools in Punjab — a comparatively developed state — are not having benches. We did ask for benches data from schools for DISE report but since all schools across India did not respond to this query, we did not include it in final report.”
“In winters, it was difficult to sit on the ground even if there were mats. We are happy that benches have finally landed in our school too,” said Amrita, a class V student.