Children going to school now have something to cheer about. In six months, thanks to the recent Supreme Court order, their schools will have drinking water, toilets, and even a boundary wall. It would be a happier place to go every day.
Provided, of course, the governments, both at the Centre and the states, don’t go back to the court, trotting out excuses. The excuses can be anything. Chances are they would be any or all of the following:
One, though education is now in the concurrent list, the Centre’s role is largely confined to policies and programmes. School buildings don’t come under its purview.
Two, even if it were to coordinate the efforts, though the Supreme Court has asked all state governments too to gear up and deliver within the timeframe set, it was far too complicated and time-consuming. Six months wasn’t enough. They are more likely to say this at the end of six months. It would, however, contact the states and monitor the effort to build the toilets, provide water facilities etc. Why, it would even set up a high power committee. But you know how these works. It does take time. Time is an elastic term.
The states would have their own woes to bring out.
One, the schools which have been ordered to have these basic facilities—the grand word is ‘infrastructure’—are mostly run by the local-self-governments, which are panchayats, samitis, zilla parishads, municipalities etc. They are almost invariably short of funds and the state would have to devise ways to find, allocate and deliver them to these bodies. That too would take time.
Alibis won’t be lacking. Appeals and adjournments sought could also be the ruses to delay or slow down the implementation because, once again, funds cannot be poured in one quick splash. It could even lead to misuse.
Regardless of these possibilities – you can never trust a government, or else why would the Supreme Court have to step in?—there is now hope. It is recognised that schools without these basics are not enough of a school.
Yesterday’s order comes after several in the past asking that schools and school children be properly taken care of. As PTI reported, it had earlier stated the imperative of providing toilets facilities "as empirical researches indicated that wherever toilet facilities are not provided in schools, parents do not send their children (particularly girls) to schools".
There definitely is a link between good facilities and continuation of students in schools. Simply because there were no toilets, and if there were, they lacked proper privacy, girl students drop out from civic schools in Mumbai, especially upon puberty.
Not providing the schools with these basics amounted to a violation of the right to free and compulsory education of children guaranteed under Article 21-A of the Constitution. A report in DNA says, “Instead of another order for implementing its earlier directions that had been made from time to time, the court passed a judgment so that it could initiate contempt action against erring states.”
In rounded-off figures, there are as many as 6,88,000 primary and 1,10,000 schools run by the government; government here means the state, the panchayati raj bodies and civic bodies. While we don’t know the precise proportion of school lacking in any of these three facilities, anecdotal evidence suggests that the backlog is huge. These details are always lacking in the in-a-hurry media, however relevant the details are.
Not building these facilities, of all the places, in government schools was perhaps easiest. They were not built at all, or they were claimed to have been built, or if built, were so badly built that there were as good as not being there at all. Ensuring that they are put in place is going to be quite harder, mostly because of the governments’ ways.
A lot of time would be lost in pushing files hither and thither and on trying to find how the poor self-governments, which had been so unmindful of such essentials, would find the resources. They are so starved that assistant teachers are appointed on a pittance of less than Rs 4,000 on contractual basis because budgets don’t allow for permanent teachers.
That is perhaps why the government is withdrawing from education sector to an extent that the private schools, with fancy labels of being ‘international’ are coming up, mostly set up by politicians. These very politicians, who have cutting-edge contact with the people and the system, had failed to properly organise schools set up by public funds.
Instead, they converted this weakness of the schools into another money-spinner: set up trusts, started private schools by securing permissions using their contacts. The zeal they show for their schools is not what they displayed for the publicly-funded institutions. They allowed them to go to seed. The worse off they are, better their own business growth.
Of course, schools with boundaries securing them, with clean toilets and potable drinking water make for good school facilities, but they do not, by any stretch of imagination, make for good schools where good education is imparted. The good outcomes emerge from commitment of the government to quality education and motivating teachers to teach well.
If, however, even the basic needs are ignored for so long, assuming that children who go to government schools belong to a cattle class and therefore can make do without even these basics, does not make for an acceptable approach to the entire gamut of education. It would be facile to say all good education needs is a good teacher and a receptive student.
Now, undoing in six months what was wrought in six decades is going to be an uphill task, but bravo, Supreme Court. It should just ensure their orders are carried out, without allowing the governments—states and Centre—to trot out excuses. The country owes the children their basics.