Some children still study under a tree in 21 century India

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Patna, Aug.23 (ANI): Evoking highest spirit of education in the early 20th century, Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore once wrote about the wonder of children studying under a tree in the open air, imbibing knowledge and values in the lap of nature which is being practiced in Shantiniketan, the stellar institution of learning, based on Tagore's principles.

In the 21st century India that recently marked its 64 Independence Day, Tagore's dream seems to have been recreated in quite a different scenario.

One such example of that is visible in district Sitamarhi of north Bihar. Here, village students from Gainpur Tola of Madhuban Purbi Basaha Panchayat, Baj Patti Block, come carrying sacks. They require it everyday to sit on the ground to study under a tree.

These students are taught by a government appointed teacher, who takes his regular class with the help of a blackboard and runs this 'open air' school.

According to Charkha Features, this flies in the face of the government's commitment for 'education for all', which is meant to impress upon the people its commitment to support and promote education as an independent policy and not riding the bandwagon of the Central Government's intent and initiative clearly spelt in the scheme "Right to Education".

In the recent past many high-sounding statements like-"Today, we don't solely depend on Central Govt.'s schemes. We have introduced more than 40 schemes on our own in the State through which people from all sections of the society are getting benefit"-have been made.

Primary school education, undoubtedly the most crucial phase of a student's life, has been much touted by the government as a high-priority. Construction of school buildings, provision of sports facilities, toilets, drinking water, even picnics are said to be part of the Chief Minister's Samagra Vidyalaya Vikas Program.

There have been references to different schemes like appointment of teachers, schools administered by Panchayats, approval of new schools and school buildings, providing money for cycle and uniform for girl students.

According to reports, the Bihar government has distributed 36,81000 uniforms and 13,60000 cycles to girls. The scheme is being extended to boys as well.

Yet this Gainpur Tola in Madhuban Purbi Basaha Panchayat, has not got what it deserves and what is talked about at the policy level.

This forgotten tola of Sitamarhi does not have the basics-a school building, not to mention the rest of the State government's elaborate schemes. The community here which is a mix of different castes and religions, is bound by commonalities, poverty and illiteracy.

They wish a better future for their children through education. And they have not spared themselves to walk that extra mile to turn it into a reality.

In 2008, when they heard that the government proposed to build a school in their village, several villagers came forward to offer their land, as per general practice.

Naveen Kumar and Bhola Mahto, who is Open-air school's secretary, were foremost in this. But the school building could not come up.

According to Jagat Kumar, the school headmaster, "Everything was ready for the school. But we couldnt build the school. It requires headmaster's signature on the agreement. But I am not signing because the building material is very costly in the market whereas the government has fixed a cheap rate [to meet the cost] for the same."

Clearly there is a yawning gap between the stated policy and the lacunae in their implementation. A gap that needs to be filled to live up to the expectations of the people in Gainpur Tola.

It is equally for the state government to place its hand on its heart and fulfill its claims.

Also in the absence of a school building, children are deprived of many facilities such as the Mid-Day meal.

"Where will we keep these things, if something happens who will take the responsibility?," the headmaster asks.

The innocent children suffer without complaint while feeling dejected by the state of affairs in their school.

Gita Kumari, one of the students says, "During storms, our clothes, mouth, nose and eyes get filled with dust, it is difficult to breath then."

According to Dhanish, a fourth standard student, "When we meet students from schools in nearby villages they say that they get food in the day and facilities to play. We don't get any such things.

Students like Gita and Dhanish are conscious that these children sit on benches and study on desks. They feel all the more painful on comparison.

Dhanish says, "They only take their bags and go. While we have to carry our sacks along to sit on. I feel ashamed of it. I don't mention to anyone where I study."

Gainpur Tola in Sitamarhi district needs urgent correction. One expects the government to respond, to take action. We look forward to Gita Kumari and Dhanish along with the 150 odd students in Gainpur Tola being able to learn their lessons, sitting on benches, protected from the sun and the sand. By Mhd Anis ur Rehman Khan (ANI)

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