Classrooms are humming again

Kalahandi, Orissa | Updated: May 30 2007, 05:30am hrs
Heres the ninth part of a series on how the governments big-ticket programmes have impacted the hinterland, filed by our reporters from across the country.

When Kalahandis education instructors tried to enroll 11-year-old scheduled tribe boy Nrudananda Dandasena in a local school some years back, his father had objected saying the distance his son had to walk to attend classes was too much. But, five years along, a school serving mid-day meals has come up near Nrudanandas home. But he is still grazing cattle and helping his father in the field.

The story is similar for over five lakh children in Orissa. But the scenario may change soon for the better as Naveen Patnaiks government is striving to reach education to all, especially in the impoverished areas.

As part of its plans to ensure that all students are enrolled in schools, the state government has created an online database of all the 98 lakh children between the 1-14 years age group. The database has helped the education authorities to start projects and programmes targeted at specific regions or even schools. Authorities are finding success in their endeavour, in snatches though. Of the total 61lakh children in the age group of 6 years to 14 years, about 55 lakh students have been enrolled in schools.

The state government wants to use Sarva Sikhya Abhiyan to enroll all children between 6-14 years of age in schoolsan attempt, many say, has failed.

But nothing is hunky dory. To make matters worse, students enroll and drop out after obtaining scholarships, a problem which is acute in districts like Kalahandi. Moreover, attendance is as low as 30 to 50% in most schools and the school dropout rate is as high as 50%, according to various estimates.

There are school dropouts. But it varies from school to school. Some have a higher percentage. We realise that dropping out of schools is a bigger problem than getting students enrolled. We are taking steps to ensure that students stay in schools, said a state education department official. The government has started various schemes, including distribution of free uniforms to ensure that the student dropout rate comes down. But, a large part of these uniforms find their way to nearby markets.

Another major problem is the difficulty in finding teachers. As a result, more prosperous places like Paradip has excess teachers. For example, a government school in Paradip with about 300 students has 14 teachers and 9 classrooms, while the one in nearby Sijur has 250 students, no classrooms and just one teacher.

Shiksha Sahayaks, who help in recruiting students, are hired on a temporary basis initially, which is seen as a major dissuading factor for many to take up the job. Moreover, with most of the schools facing shortage of teachers, Shiksha Sahayaks also double up as teachers. In addition, the monthly pay for Shiksha Sahayaks is Rs 2,000, lower than the Rs 6,000-Rs 7,000 earned by a regular schoolteacher.