Students? Present, Ma’am; Textbooks? Absent, Ma’am!

The farcical state of primary education in rural Bundelkhand resonates in this story from Banda.

“Today, he’ll take the Math book home. Tomorrow, I will.”

A peculiar sharing business is going on between young students in Banda. At Naraini’s junior school and Pachokhar’s primary school where we visited, there was a dearth of textbooks, forcing the children to take turns at their studies, spacing out the subjects within the days of the week.

It’s been over four months and counting since the new session has begun, but the students have yet to receive their books. Geeta masterni, a teacher at the Pachokhar school, is miffed at the questioning. “Well, the main reason for not getting books”, she says, “is that books have not been made available to us by the government.”

According to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) of 2009, children between the ages of six and 14 are eligible to basic education, free of charge. This includes school uniforms and of course, textbooks. But here deep inside the innards of the country’s most populous state, not only are there not enough textbooks to go around, parents have also faced pressure to buy them. Girja, guardian to eight-year-old Aryan, tells us that her son comes home everyday with the same plea that’s turned into a demand of late, “You must buy the books now. The teacher will surely punish me tomorrow if you don’t.” Durjan, the father of another child, is an empathetic soul – he understands the school’s dilemma, “We’ve spoken to the teachers and schools, but what can they do?”

Meanwhile, Aryan’s peer and friend Ishrat holds up the two books she possesses, and tells us there should be a total of six, “Abhi toh chaar nahi hai (There are four left),” she tells us. But how will she study the missing subjects?, we ask. She shrugs. Arti, on the other hand, has done the Math. Unfazed, she presents a solution, “The teacher writes it all out on the blackboard and we note it down in our copies. Then we go home and read that.”

Entire textbooks written out on blackboards and then copied off? How would the syllabus progress?

The head master at Naraini’s junior school has thought this through, “What we do is we work to teach new children from old books, so that the children going to the next class leave the previous class books for the children. In this way we are working and completing the course.”

But if that is a befuddling state of affairs, then there’s an ingenious trick some of the students at Naraini have come up with – yes, the sharing of textbooks. So, if Raju has Ganit on Mondays, Seema will revise Vigyaan. And so on and so forth… As Geeta masterni confessed, “If we have no books, we have to make arrangements. Often, a book has to be kept between two children or even a group of five or six.”

Desperate times, desperate measures.

When we went to meet the officer at the Basic Shiksha Department in Chilla, Banda, one Shushant Babu, also the keeper of textbooks and the statistics, he mumbled numbers, off-camera: There has been a demand for books since June 5 and two lakh sixty five thousand books had arrived, out of which about one lakh ninety thousand five hundred and eighty have already been allocated. As for the rest? “When they come, they will be distributed,” he said.

But it’s been over four months, term exams are around the corner, and parents fear the books will come too late, or not at all. The children are anxious. “How will we understand?”, says Aryan. And Arti has a simple question: “What do we read and how do we take exams?”