Shedding light on the dismal state of the schooling system in Bihar and the impact of the post-COVID crisis, a new survey report titled “Where Are the Kids?” was released in Patna on August 4. The report, conducted by Jan Jagran Shakti Sanghathan (JJSS) in January-February 2023, is based on a survey of 81 government primary and upper-primary schools in Katihar and Araria districts of Bihar.
The survey findings reveal a grim situation where none of the surveyed schools meet the norms of the Right to Education (RtE) Act. The attendance of pupils in these schools is shockingly low, with a meagre 20 per cent of children being present on the day of the survey. The majority of these students come from impoverished families and marginalised communities, exacerbating the educational disparities.
One of the most significant issues plaguing the schooling system is the acute shortage of teachers. Only 35 per cent of primary schools and a mere 5 per cent of upper-primary schools meet the prescribed pupil-teacher ratio of one teacher per 30 children, as mandated by the RtE Act. Furthermore, during the survey, it was found that only 58 per cent of the appointed teachers were on duty, raising serious concerns about the commitment of the teaching workforce in government schools.
The report also highlights the adverse effects of the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme for textbooks and uniforms on economically disadvantaged families. With limited financial resources, many poor families are forced to make a difficult choice between purchasing essential textbooks and uniforms or fulfilling basic necessities. As a result, numerous children are left without proper textbooks or uniforms. Additionally, it is worth noting that almost all teachers are against the DBT system for textbooks.
The COVID-19 crisis dealt a severe blow to the schooling system, leaving a lasting impact on the learning outcomes of students. According to the survey, a majority of teachers expressed concern that a significant number of children in Classes 1-5 had forgotten how to read and write by the time schools reopened last year. Despite this alarming situation, little to no measures have been taken to support these struggling students.
Moreover, the report raises alarm over the increasing prevalence of cheap and dingy tuition centres that threaten to displace government schools. The unhealthy environment of such tuition centres poses risks to children’s well-being and hinders their access to quality education.
Addressing this crisis requires urgent action from the authorities. The report suggests strict compliance with the RtE Act, which includes ensuring an adequate pupil-teacher ratio in all schools. Furthermore, providing eggs daily with the midday meal could help incentivise attendance and improve the nutritional status of students. A crucial step towards restoring government schools would be imposing a ban on tuitions during school hours to discourage the exodus of students to private tutoring centres.
The survey report underscores the need for immediate attention and comprehensive reforms in Bihar’s schooling system. It highlights successful models, such as UMS Chargharia, demonstrating that the revival of government schools is possible. Only through a concerted effort and a commitment to children’s education can the state hope to overcome the challenges and create a brighter future for its young learners.