Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh: 11-year-old Tikam Singh and 19-year-old Lalu, students of Kushalwai village in Madhya Pradesh’s Alirajpur district, dropped out of their schools a few years back.
They stated that they could not cope when they moved to class six outside their village.
Lalu said, “I took admission in class six, but when the teacher gave me a book, I just could not read it. Since I could not follow the classes as well, I lost my interest in studies. I now work in our farm.”
Tikam Singh spends his day grazing cattle in the village. “He couldn’t even write his name right,” said his father Karim Singh. “I spent Rs 2,700 to send him to private school but it wasn’t of any use,” he added.
The story of school dropouts like Tikam Singh and Lalu is not new to this area which is infamous for having lowest literacy rate in the country.
Literacy rate in Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh is just 36 per cent, less than half of national average, according to 2011 census. After Alirajpur, Bijapur and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh and Nabarangpur in Orissa are at the bottom of literacy pyramid in India.
While school dropouts are one part of the story, the other is lack of competent teachers. Alirajpur’s 300 schools are without any teacher. The ones appointed, do not make it to their allotted schools daily.
Bhabra village in Alirajpur is the birth place of freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad. Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose this place to launch a 15-day programme – “70 saal Azaadi, Yaad karo Qurbani” on the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement on August 9.
Here he spoke passionately about how education can lift one out from the clutches of poverty. He also urged the villagers to send their children to schools.
A day later, NDTV visited government primary schools in Alirajpur to take stock of the situation on the ground.
One of the schools was locked since the teachers did not show up for work.
Roop Singh, a resident of the village said the absenteeism of teachers wasn’t unusual. “The teacher comes here for a few hours. Sometimes they just come to sign the register and mark students’ attendance,” he shared.
At another primary school which is less than an hour away from Kushalwai, a leaking roof forced three teachers to use one common classroom and accommodate children from classes one to five.
The administration acknowledged the problem and stressed that it is working towards solutions.
Alirajpur Collector Shekhar Verma said, “Finding teachers has been a challenge for us and we are now getting guest teachers for the students. We have appointed about 350 guest teachers.”
However, till a more permanent solution is found, for the children of Alirajpur, the road to education is likely to be long and difficult one.
– With contributions from Rizwan Khan and Waseem Raza