Government Schools in Uttarkhand – a dire need to attract more children

Uttarakhand – the hill state called Dev Bhoomi – ranks tenth in the ‘School Education Quality Index’ report by NITI Aayog.  This indicates a lack of quality education in government schools. The situation is even more worrisome, especially in rural areas where school buildings are not suitable for teaching in some areas, teacher’s posts are lying vacant. Due to the disintegrating system in government schools parents have started preferring private schools despite their low income. According to an NGO survey, 35% of parents are opting for private schools for better education of their children. The percentage of students enrolled in private schools has increased from 20%in 2006 to 33% in 2018. Between 2014 and 2018, 1.5 lakh students have migrated from government schools to private schools in Uttarakhand. In the Uttarakhand education system, 39000 students of 1689 primary schools in 13 districts are running with the help of only single teachers. There is a huge gap in the student-teacher ratio in the state.

At present, private schools hold an edge over the government schools of being far more superior in terms of infrastructure.  Parents are turning to private schools as the emphasis is on speaking the English language at the primary level as compared to government schools and parents think this will be helpful in providing employment to children in the future. The difference in the education capacity of students in private schools versus government schools is also increasing.  As of 2009, it has increased from 16% to 29% in 2013 and to 37% in 2018.

According to the NITI Aayog report on education, there are considerable disparities in the case of school education across the country where improvement is required on a large scale. In NITI Aayog’s ‘School Education Quality Index’ report, Kerala has been ranked first on the basis of quality while Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state, has been ranked last. This report is based on the learning outcomes of school-going children. According to the report, 11 of the 20 major states in the country have had a significant decline in primary admission. While at the secondary level this decline has been recorded in 8 out of 20 large states. States also have significant disparities in matters of library and computer education.

Inequality in education between states is a major obstacle in the development of the country, as it is the sector that indicates the direction and condition of the entire generation. Statistics suggest that a strong initiative is still needed for educational reforms. There is a need to create a policy that can be implemented equally in all states. Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 is equally applicable in all the states of the country, despite this, according to the report, Kerala is at the forefront in implementing the education rule and Uttar Pradesh is the most backward. All the states of the country are lagging behind from Kerala in all matters including teaching pattern, training of teachers, the appointment of teachers in classrooms and positions.

From my own experience, I have seen that not only the education of students in government schools but also health is being played out. This year, while visiting a government school in Nainital city, I saw dirty toilets filled with Gutkha, cigarettes and foul smells, in which it was difficult to stand for a moment. At the same time, the auditorium of the school was such that the roof could fall anytime and take the form of a big accident. This situation is not only about one school in Nainital city. 90% of government schools in Uttarakhand state are facing this situation. Uttarakhand falls in seismic zone four which increases the risk of earthquakes in the area. In such a case, dilapidated buildings can lead to a big accident. This needs serious attention from the local administration. It is not that teachers of government schools lack knowledge. They are appointed on the basis of merit, but in addition to school work, those teachers are burdened with work like elections, census and other surveys. This often affects their teaching work. In contrast, teachers in private schools only have to do the work of teaching, so that they put all their energy into the all-round development of the students.

However, the government needs to improve its policies. All grants are given to government schools as compared to private schools. The budget allocates a special amount for education. Despite this, parents turning to private schools is an indication of the poor education system. The need is that the government should improve the model of these schools. When we take look at the improving model of schools, then Delhi and Kerala are the two biggest examples from which every state should learn. Kerala invested 15% of its total budget on education in 2019-20 and the Delhi government invested 25% of its annual budget in education, which is the highest among all the states of India. If we talk about the pass percentage of class XII students; Delhi government schools have increased this year by 3.5% last year it was 90% but this year it reached 94.24% which is a good sign by which parents feel encouraged to send their children to government schools.

Uttarakhand can bring students back to the government schools by improving the infrastructure and by filling the vacant teaching positions. They should consider looking at the model used by Kerala and Delhi who have worked on improving infrastructure, libraries and introduced SMART Classes. These are the key points that every state government school should adopt for an overall improvement of education across the country.

Narendra Singh Bisht, Nainital, Uttarakhand