Incidentally, these are not the only schools in Delhi facing such a plight. Dealing with staff crunch and inadequate infrastructure, many schools in areas such as Sonia Vihar, Sunder Nagri and Karawal Nagar are being forced to adopt uncommon measures to teach students.
The Delhi government had announced construction of 8,000 classrooms and the plan was to start work in January, but it was postponed to the summer vacations to enable students to finish their examinations. With construction yet to end, students are being forced to attend classes in courtyards and corridors.
While students at the Sarvodaya Vidyalayas in Burari come to school on alternate days, those at the government school in Karawal Nagar are called on schedules determined by teachers. At Sunder Nagri, the government school was calling girls and boys for classes on alternate days until last week, while at Sonia Vihar, students from Class VI to Class VIII were also being called on alternate days until last Thursday, and given homework for days they did not have classes. This stopped after directions from the education department. Here is what stakeholders at the schools encountering a raft of problems have to say.
“While students from nursery to Class VIII attend school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, those in Class IX to Class XII come on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. There are 52 sections, and only 24 classrooms. So everyone cannot come to school every day,” says Shashi Mohan, member of the School Management Committee( SMC).
The school complex, constructed in 1989, has around 40 rooms and three clusters of classrooms. In August last year, the Directorate of Education had declared a building in the school as ‘dangerous’ and directed the school authorities to vacate the place. The ground reality, however, is the principal and teachers are still working from this ‘dangerous’ building.
“We have ignored the directions of the directorate and are working from here because if we don’t, the school will only function two days a week. We don’t want to violate guidelines, but what option to we have? We have written to the PWD and even the Education Minister, but nothing has come of it,” says a senior teacher at the school.
Construction of 76 rooms has started, but school authorities cannot say with certainty when the work will finish. “Ministers, MLAs come and promise things will be done, and leave,” says Nagmani Roy, another member of the SMC. “The government had promised 50 rooms to the school by the end of March, but construction began in March. It hasn’t even bothered to make an alternative arrangement for our children,” Roy adds.
With half the time, teachers have been forced to adopt ‘speedier’ ways to finish the syllabus. “It’s called the capsule approach. There is no time for details. As far as possible, the focus is on teaching topics that are important for examination,” says a teacher. Incidentally, the Right To Education (RTE) Act mandates 200 working days for students studying in Class I to Class V, and 220 working days for those studying in Class VI to Class VIII.
The school’s problems are also compounded by inadequate number of toilets. “There are around 3,000 students in one shift, and only two toilets. So the children have to use steel portable cabins that were supposed to be used as classrooms for toilets,” says SMC member Mohan. The cabins stink badly. Officials at the Directorate of Education say they are aware of the situation and are working to create more rooms.
Since the time they joined the school, Class VII students don’t remember having benches to sit on in class. The school has 5,000 girls attending classes in the morning and 3,800 boys in the afternoon. All of this is done in just 32 rooms. With little space and thousands of students, the school was recently forced to ask students from Class VI to Class VIII to come on alternate days. This ended last Thursday after the government asked the school to stop the practice. Now, apart from hundreds of students sitting in small, cramped rooms, classes are held in the open and in the dirty, musty corridors, where students sit on rugs.
“The school does not have enough rooms to teach all students so it was decided to call students from Class VI to Class VIII on alternate days to reduce congestion. Teachers were asked to teach the students for a day, and give them homework for their day off. What else could the school do? There is no way so many students can fit in such space,” says Afsana, a member of the SMC. “The children were studying in cold corridors the entire winter last year. They are studying in the heat in this weather. What option do they have?” Afsana adds.
Construction of a new school block has given parents hope, but the work will take time. The school, in the meantime, is taking on more students. “The school has no choice since one can’t deny admission to anyone, as mandated by the RTE Act. For now, things will have to continue the way they are,” says a senior teacher.
The school witnessed violent protests this year on account of unprecedented failures in Class IX. While many attributed this to systemic flaws, the school also battles infrastructure problems. Teachers give students holidays when they want, and students are called to school when teachers think classes can be held. Parents are angry, yet helpless.
The school has more than 7,000 students and they are accommodated in four shifts. A few classes have more than 12 sections. Classes are mostly conducted outdoors because the 69 classrooms in one of the most crowded government schools in the city are not enough.
“ We are hearing since the last two years that rooms will be constructed and then the situation will change, but nothing seems to be happening. Construction is taking forever. Meanwhile, teachers call the children as per their wish. Ek din school bulate hain aur phir teen din chutti de dete hain (They call them one day and then give a three-day holiday). If classes are not held, how will children pass? We are fed up,” says Pappu Sharma, a member of the SMC. A parent says, “In the three-hour shifts, classes are taken for two hours, and even in those hours, at times, there are no teachers. There are no teachers for some subjects. How can students be expected to study under such conditions?”
Members of an inquiry panel who had visited the school to assess the reasons for 1,500 students failing in Class IX and Class XI had attributed the poor performance to primarily “lack of infrastructure” and “overcrowding”. Two wings of the school building have been declared dangerous and the PWD is working on them.
Facing double shifts, a high number of students and shortage of teachers, the school came out with its own measure — calling girls and boys for classes on alternate days. When this came to the notice of the education department, the school was forced to withdraw the order. It is now functioning in two shifts.
Until the last academic year, the school was co-educational. This year, the government ordered the school be bifurcated and run in two shifts to increase student enrollment. But the school did not make arrangements for transfer of teachers, and, as a result, teachers refused to teach in the evening shift. “After the bifurcation, teacher transfers were not cleared and we had to find an alternative system. Now that the order has been issued, the school has started running in double shift again,” says Rajiv Kumar, a member of the SMC.
More than 4,000 children study in the school in both shifts. There are 22 sections in the morning shift and 32 in the evening shift.
The school is also facing another battle. While the government has sanctioned construction of rooms on the school’s playground, the school has passed a resolution that it has enough rooms and does not require more. The SMC even went to the high court to stop construction. The court directed the education director to take the final call. The construction is underway.
Incidentally, the government school in Nand Nagri faces a similar situation. The SMC has urged the deputy director education to halt construction to save the school playground. “… The situation could have been avoided if the government had at least consulted the principal before going ahead with the construction,” says Mohammad Arif, a member of the SMC.