“In our school, the English teacher speaks very rudely to the students. Her name is Sureka. She makes students massage her head and press her hand and feet. I am the monitor of the class and I don’t like doing this in front of my classmates. Are teachers being paid for this? She does not take class and during class hours and chats with other teachers instead. And she tells me to mind the class and to teach the students…Please don’t reveal my name to the school authorities,” writes Pinki (name changed), in a postcard to lawyer Ashok Agarwal, a leading activist for right to education.
Pinki is a student of government-run Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, in Patparganj.
Similar postcards – over 500 so far – by students studying in government schools are giving school principals and teachers the jitters. Parents and students have been called and urged by schools to take their complaints back.
In a radical initiative to expose the apathy and lack of basic facilities in the capital’s government schools two years into the Right to Education Act, Social Jurist, a lawyers’ and social activists’ collective, has enlisted students of government schools through a postcard campaign to hold their schools accountable for denying them quality education and violating the RTE Act.
Schools are being pulled up by the directorate of education to redress grievances of students after the Delhi High Court took cognisance of these complaints by students.“A student who had complained that the fans in his school were not working, called to say that the fans have started to work. He realizes now how powerful his pen can be. And once the children understand this, it makes all the difference,” Agarwal said.
One of the students called Agarwal with this update, “Sir, the principal called me and spoke to me very nicely today. He has never spoken so kindly to me before. He said that he will take care of the problems in the school. And that I shouldn’t have complained but informed him directly.”
In the petition to the acting chief justice of the Delhi High Court, bringing to his notice the grievances of the students, Agarwal, adviser to Social Jurist, wrote: “The effective implementation of the RTE Act is in jeopardy due to the negligence on the part of the Government of NCT of Delhi and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the repercussions of which are being faced by lakhs of children studying in the city schools. It is indeed a matter of national shame that even after 65 years of Independence, the public education system has not been able to deliver quality education to children belonging to the weaker sections of the society.”
The postcard campaign held in May at the Jehangirpuri Resettlement Colony and Samyapur Badli Slum Colony exposed how students of government schools were being made to clean classrooms, didn’t have access to drinking water and clean toilets and were routinely being maltreated by their teachers.
Madhubala, a Class XI student of Sarvodya Kanya Vidyalaya in Badli, wrote “Students have to clean the classroom, roll number-wise, on a daily basis.”
“Teachers are always sleeping and when students call them they shoo them away,” Premchand, a Class XII of the Government Boys Senior Secondary School in Badli, said.
Sagar, a student of the same school said, “Teachers make students take out the garbage and clean the classrooms. There are not enough fans and the ones we have don’t function properly.”
Sabina, a student of the government school in Jehangirpuri wrote that even though there was a water tank in the school premises there isn’t adequate water available and that students are not allowed to fill their water bottles.
Siraz Anwar, a student of Government Boys Senior Secondary School, Azadpur Colony, complains that cleaners in his school abuse students and that they have to leave the school premises during the school hours due to lack of security.
The postcard campaign exposes how rampant problems such as teacher absenteeism, poor hygiene, lack of drinking water facilities, lack of security and lack of proper infrastructure are in government schools.
Akbar Ali of Chetanalaya, an NGO that works in Delhi’s resettlement and slum colonies, which collaborated in the campaign in Jehangirpuri, says the government’s response has been disappointing.
“The children sent a lot of postcards relating the various hardships they face in schools. But they are still waiting for action to be taken. There are no fans in classrooms, the school toilets are not being cleaned and drinking water continues to be a problem.”
The purpose of the postcard campaign, says Agarwal, is to start a “psychological war” so that principals and teachers know that they can be held accountable.
And when one school in the neighbourhood is pulled up, the message spreads to other schools as well.
“The way things are today, neither the government nor the NGOs are interested in the education of the masses. Who then will fight? Only the children can fight. They have to be awakened,” Agarwal said.