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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Low on cash, farmers shift to barter system to ensure kids’ education

Bihar has about 75,000 government schools with about three crore students.

Written by Santosh Singh | Nayagaon (begusarai) |
Updated: July 28, 2020 10:30:36 am
Nishu studies with her brothers Nirbhay and Arpit, in Nayagaon, Begusarai. (Express Photo by Santosh Singh)

Nishu Kumari, a Class IX student at a government-run school, is studying with her brother Nirbhay, a Class VII student and cousin Arpit, a Class I student. Their grandfather Bhagirath Singh is keeping a watch on them as the three have to finish their homework before private tutor Subodh Singh arrives.

Nishu’s father Shivjyoti Kumar, a farmer, says most parents at their village, Nayagaon in Bihar’s Begusarai district, are now depending on private tutors for their wards’ education as there are no signs of schools opening anytime soon and many are finding it difficult to follow online classes due to poor Internet connectivity. The classes being aired on Doordarshan too have found few takers in the region as many don’t have television sets; the one-way nature of the lessons and outdated content has also failed to attract students, say local residents.

Shivjyoti has 40 quintal of wheat from his land after share-cropping and he would be giving a part of it to Subodh Singh as payment for his tuitions.

“Wheat is our cash. Several farmers give wheat as tuition fee on most occasions.The teacher charges Rs 1,000 per month for teaching for an hour daily,” says Shivjyoti.

The age-old barter system seems to have returned to the riverine areas of Matihani and Begusarai, with most farmers saying they have not seen much cash in the past three months. Farmers in the region also cultivate maize, but there has been little sale of maize owing to the low prices, making wheat their cash in times of Covid-19 and the lockdown.

Shivjyoti says there are few takers for maize as every household has it stocked up as farmers wait for better prices.

Nayagaon, with a population of about 3,500, has nearly 1,000 schoolgoing children. While most of them are enrolled in government schools at the village, about 10 per cent go to private schools nearby. The village has some people in the defence services, but the majority comprise of farmers, who grow wheat and maize.

Sudhir Singh is among 20-odd private tutors who teach students in and around the village and they have never been as busy as they have been in the last three months. Several of them are now teaching three to four batches of students, either at their homes of students or at the students’ homes.

Sudhir Singh, who says he has been into teaching for about 35 years now, stands out for charging a much lower fee than other teachers — Rs 200 per month. “I have a total of 50 students and have divided them in 10 batches. I follow social distancing norms and ensure use of masks in my classes. I teach in the open spaces in the village. I am happy to contribute to the cause of education at a time when schools and colleges are shut,” says Singh, as Shivjyoti, once his student, nods.

The teacher says he has no problem with getting wheat in return for his lessons as “everyone needs to buy wheat anyway”.

Naresh Singh, a villager, says, “We do not have much cash in our accounts. Whatever is left has been set aside for any medical emergency.” Naresh says most farmers could not sell maize this time due to the low price of Rs 1,100 per quintal — the price on offer was Rs 1,800 per quintal last year.

Shivjyoti’s daughter Nishu says that they “study seriously when a teacher is present”. “Self-study does not work beyond a point. We are happy that our parents are so conscious about our education.”

Besides Shivjyoti, Durga Singh, Vishwanath Singh and Arvind Singh are among the farmers who are paying for their children’s lessons with wheat. Ashutosh Jha, S K Jha and A K Singh are among the other private tutors who have no problem with this system. “This is a temporary phase and will pass,” says Ashtosh.

Sanjay Singh, the Special Project Director of Bihar Education Project Council, under the state education department, told The Indian Express, “We have been conducting online classes on Doordarshan between 9 am and 3 pm for Classes I to XII but we do not have a clear idea about how many students are actually following them. Our challenge is to reach out to village students. We are working on building a system that incorporates online and minimum physical presence of teachers.”

Bihar has about 75,000 government schools with about three crore students.

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