The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act 2002 makes education a Fundamental Right for children in the age group of 6-14 years by stating "the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine". The Act further provides under Article 51-A (k) that it shall be a fundamental duty of every citizen of India who is a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child between the age of six and fourteen years.
But in India today, 4% of our children never start school. 58 percent don't complete primary schools. And 90% don't complete school. On a global map India has the third highest rate of teacher absenteeism, costing USD 2 billion per year. Despite the high rate of school enrolments, India has the largest number of illiterate adults compared to any other country.
On one hand when urban India is battling its weak areas in the educational system, rural India has not seen a clear light of day for one of its fundamental right to Education .Though the government has taken necessary steps and initiatives to enforce cost free education. It has also made certain laws so that each child is educated in the country. But the scenario in many villages and the border areas is grim and alarming.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir has town to its east, Poonch, often called the City of Saints. Poonch sector, which falls under the Jammu district has not seen much progress. There are various schemes announced by the government, but Poonch has often got a step-motherly treatment in many areas of development, one of the key concerns being education.
The literacy rate of Poonch district is as per Census 2011 is 66.7% while in 2001 it was 51.19%. The male literacy in Poonch is 78.84% (Census 2011) in comparison to 65.04 percent in 2001. The female literacy in Census 2011 in Poonch is 53.19 while in Census 2001 it was 35.96%. The statistics for women, especially belonging to SC and ST community are not satisfactory. The lowest literacy rate is for educational zone Mandi which has only 17 percent ST population. The female literacy rate of Mandi educational zone is lowest at 14.09 percent.
According to a government data the number of government schools in Poonch, be it in Primary, Upper-Primary, Secondary and Higher Secondary is way below in comparison to other educational zones such as Mandi, Mendhar and Surankote.
Poonch is divided into four tehsils - Haveli Tehsil, Mandi Tehsil, Mendhar Tehsil and Surankote Tehsil. Surankote Tehsil is located exactly 27 kilometers to the east of Poonch city and approximately 221 kilometers away from the winter capital Jammu.
There are baffling facts one may encounter in the government schools in Surankote, especially those, which are located in far flung areas. The attitude of these government schools is rather cold and lame. "I hold the authority here; I close down the school by 12 pm…" Principal Niam Ahmed of Girls Middle School blurted out in an authoritative manner, when being asked about the timings of the schools which actually should be open till 2 pm.
However Darshan Bharti, a Senior Journalist from Poonch reasons out that the imbalance between the student- teacher ratio to be one of the prime causes for the early closure of the schools . "There are about 60 – 80 students in each class with just one teacher and the rooms can barely accommodate these students, so the school finds it easy to shut down."
However, the attendance of the teachers has been one of the biggest issue schools are facing mainly due to salaries, that they barely receive."We have not received our salaries for about 10 months now." One of the teachers quickly responded.
The poor attendance of teachers in these Government schools has come as a biggest disadvantage for the students. Well, apart from the untimely salaries that the teachers hardly receive there are murkier and astounding truths which normally are left untold. Most of the appointments are fixed and lobbying has put a risk to future of students. Poonch sector holds around 130 such influential appointments. This results to disinterested teachers who have just been drawing salaries. To this the Chief Educational Officer Abdul Hamid Fani responds "Several complaints have been received against teachers who have not been attending schools, they have been under our strict observation".
Secondly, people who show some interest in teaching take transfers to the good towns like Jammu and Poonch leaving these far flung areas lurching at its own fate. The midday meals again have different story. Teachers helplessly say that the meal comprises of only rice and they themselves have been contributing for other items to make it a full meal. The fact remains that students are facing a direct brunt due to the sad state of affairs in these schools. On the national level many of India's teachers lack the training to be able to teach well. In 2012, 99% of prospective teachers studying for a Bachelor of Education in India failed the Central Teacher Eligibility Test for competency.
Education facilitates socio-economic change and it is a tool to empower the youth so that they can be self-reliant and lead a quality life. The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that a dream of a better India can be completed only if our children are rightfully educated, and if young minds are shown the right direction. Sadly, our children are unaware of what their future holds.
Note: The views expressed in the article are that of the author.