The students of primary classes, about 400 of them, at the Adarsh School of Midhu Mann village in Faridkot district sit in a big hall which has a roof supported by pillars and no walls.
The building, which was meant to be a school, was left incomplete. So the voices of teachers and students mix in a cacophony, resonating all over.
In the absence of walls, the wind blows in unchecked.
“If there is fog in winter, the mist covers the desks. When it rains, we have to shift all students to one or two rooms that have walls. In the summer, blasts of hot wind come in. There is no wall to put a blackboard on. If we put it on a stand, the winds topples it over,” said a teacher.
The school was set up under Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s well-intentioned Adarsh School Scheme, announced in 2009, to provide quality education to rural children by setting up schools under public-private partnership. In two years, MoUs were signed for setting up 24 schools. Later, as private operators backed out, the government took over 11 schools.
The Indian Express visited some of the schools and found that the buildings are dilapidated, there are no boundary walls, no playgrounds, no bulbs or tubelights. Apparently, work in such schools came to a standstill when the private partners left.
The school at Midhu Mann — which has a plaque at the entrance that states that the foundation stone was laid by Paramjit Kaur Gulshan, the then education minister, in 2011 — had no toilet for students until the 30-odd teachers collected money and got a makeshift toilet made for the girl students. The boys still go to nearby fields.
Initially, the school had 1,000 students. After the private party backed out, the number fell to 700. Since they could not be accommodated in the building, the senior classes were shifted to the building of the village’s government primary school.
Principal Jaipal Uppal said, “Recently, we received a notice from PWD stating that the building is unsafe. However, the government has not told us where to shift.’’
A somewhat similar story unfolds at Adarsh Senior Secondary Schools, Malla, also in Faridkot district. It functions out of a rented building where the classrooms have no doors and windows no glass panes.
The two-storey building has 11 rooms for 650 students. Sometimes, sections are combined for lack of space. Some of the rooms have no furniture and students have to sit on the floor.
The principal’s room doubles up as a store and utensils for the mid-day meal are kept there. The students eat the meals sitting on the ground outside the building. Since there is no boundary wall, teachers say they need to be watchful to ensure that students do not slip away.
The Adarsh School at Daulatpura in Moga district is no better. The building is incomplete for the past three years. The few walls that were constructed are damp with water seepage. There is no proper playground and farmers of the adjoining area sometimes approach the school authorities seeking to use the land for farming.
Monica, principal of the Adarsh School at Dhulkot Ransin in Moga, says she had nine teachers for 500 students. “At times the clerk is asked to fill in for teachers to ensure discipline,” she says.
The building is plastered, but iron rods protrude from several places, making it dangerous for the students and teachers. There are no tubelights. On a cloudy day, it is impossible to teach.
In Chauka village in Bathinda district, the constituency of Union Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the primary wing of the school functions in a rented house. There is very little space for the 300 students registered for nursery and the rooms lack ventilation. When it becomes suffocating in the classrooms, teachers shift the students to a shed that was meant for feeding cattle. A blackboard has been put up there.
Obviously, the scheme was ill-planned. Said a senior official of the Punjab government, “Big companies like Bharti Enterprises have funds for CSR activities, and schools run by them are doing well. Others would not pump in money. That is why the scheme has run into problems.”
Education Minister D S Cheema said the government had re-advertised for operators to take up the schools. “The process is going on. A committee has been constituted which is headed by the principal secretary. Some operators have been shortlisted. The schools would be allotted soon to these managements.’’
Has the government learnt any lessons?
In 2009, the Punjab government decided to set up 108 Adarsh schools across the state under public-private partnership. The Punjab Education Development Board was asked to get 10-15 acres land free of cost from panchayats for each school and hand it over to private operators on 99-year lease for a token amount.
The schools were to have class from pre-nursery to 10+2, with a capacity of 2,000 students, who were not to be charged any fee. The schools were to be affiliated with CBSE.
The capital cost for construction of school was to be split 50:50 between PEDB and the private promoter. The operational cost was to be split 70:30 between PEDB and the operator. The monthly cost of each student was calculated to be Rs 1,680 and each student was to get free admission, textbooks, uniform, meals and transportation
The Department of School Education was to handle recruitment of teachers while PEDB was to hold annual reviews.
There is another type of Adarsh schools, numbering 11, in the state which are run by the Punjab School Education Board. These were set up after 1979.