One Teacher and Multiple Jute Mats — An insight into a local government school in rural UP

The one and only primary government school in Sherwani Tola, Shamsabad, Farrukhabad, UP

A walking distance from Bharti Foundation’s Sikanderpur branch of Satya Bharti School in Shamsabad[1] block of Uttar Pradesh stands an open structure; a structure with more open space than covered. With white walls and a dwarf brick-fence periphery, the modest school’s boundary walls are shorter than the height of its students. This is one of the handful of primary government schools in this particular region of the Shamsabad block of Farrukhabad district in UP.

With a hand pump and gender divided toilets to the immediate left, the entire field echoed with kids playing and digesting their mid-day meals as we dashed-in and soaked the upbeat atmosphere. By 1:10 pm, the students descended to their respective classrooms. Some in, and most outside of the only two classrooms in the school; seated in rows on tethered jute mats.

As part of E&H Foundation, me along with my core team members, together with the co-founder of Self-Reliant India visited this particular government school on a sunny July afternoon in 2019. At the time, both the organizations were exploring opportunities to partner with state institutions to collectively advance access to quality education for the bottom of the pyramid population in UP. Since 2012, E&H Foundation has been partnering with models of quality primary education in rural and urban UP, working with a high percentage of first-generation learners by following a strategy of collaborations and partnerships. The focus is on identifying, scaling and sustaining enquiry-based pedagogical models achieving high learning outcomes through a collaborative approach. To build over our current programs and continue supporting these children beyond STD 5, we had been exploring a potential partnership with SRI and various government schools to work with STD 5 students for a year and encourage and train them to sit for Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalas (JNVs)[4] entrance tests, aiming to increase the representation of kids from rural areas and government schools into JNVs — the purpose for which these residential schools were initially incepted.

On learning our intentions, the principal was more than welcoming. He invited us into his office and made time to answer our questions. We immediately learnt that the principal was also one of the only two teachers in the school. Hence, throughout the conversation, screeches, mumbling, laughter and hustling could be heard in the background.

What we learnt from this one experience, among many others we have encountered in the recent past, stood out. Most of the challenges being faced by this school alone can be seen as a sample of the larger picture concerning the learning crisis in India, especially highlighting the complexities that impair the development of the education sector in Uttar Pradesh.

1. The Pupil-Teacher Ratio (or Lack of it)

The school had approximately 100 children from STD 1–5 and one teacher, with its pupil-teacher ratio amounting to 100:1. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, prescribes that the Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) should be maintained at 30:1 and 35:1 at primary and upper primary school levels respectively. It also prescribes that there should be one classroom per teacher. Furthermore, under the mandate, The Student Classroom Ratio (SCR) and Pupil Teacher Ration for UP was fixed at 44:1 and 34:1 respectively.

However, this particular school had two classrooms with the same teacher frequenting each in intervals. This was extremely alarming provided the student-teacher ratio directly impacts the learning outcomes of students within classrooms. Moreover, in such scarcity, where one teacher is responsible for 100 students, focus on individual learning and attention is much less than prescribed or desirable.

The one and only teacher of the primary school engaging with STD 1 students

2. Outpaced Growth in Teachers Compared to Growth in Number of Schools

The RTE Act provides that all infrastructure facilities, including the provision of teachers as per the prescribed PTR, should be in place. To ensure better PTR and SCR, 19.82 lakh teacher posts and 3.04 lakh school buildings and 17.92 lakh additional classrooms (ACRs) were sanctioned up to 2012–13 under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).

Let’s understand it this way: the total number of teachers in UP across all categories (Primary, Upper Primary & Secondary) was 8.94 Lakhs in 2012–13, which crossed 10 lakhs with the 2013 recruitments. Just to put things in perspective, at this point, the total number of teachers in UP was higher than the total population of Sikkim. The overall number of teachers increased by 58% from 2001–02 to 2012–13. However, this increase has not been as high as the increase in the number of schools, which increased by 99% during the same period. Additionally, it is interesting to note that primary school teachers increased by only 14% during this period, while upper primary increased by 155%.

Comparing this number to the proliferation of gross enrolments and schools since the RTE mandate was announced (more than a decade ago), it seems like a dot in the universe.

The principal did not have a concrete answer as to why there is a dearth of teachers or lack of willingness among community members to join the sector despite a good salary being offered by the government. Although, on probing, he mentioned that lack of awareness may be one of the reasons, along with the disparate willingness of educated youth to join government schools within communities.

3. The Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS)

With an aim of enhancing enrolment, retention and attendance along with simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme on 15th August 1995. In 2001, the NSPE became a cooked Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) under which every child in every government or government-aided primary school was to be served a prepared mid-day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories of energy and 8–12 grams of protein per day for a minimum of 200 days in a year. From personal normative experiences, I have come across many instances of children coming to class hungry or avoiding studies altogether because of being famished. MDMS is imperative for fighting hunger in schools, thus increasing enrolment and enabling quality education for children at primary levels. Although, things are not as simple as they seem.

The scheme was put under the spotlight, and its execution was sincerely scrutinized with the pre-COVID expose by journalist Pawan Jaiswal in Mirzapur, back in 2019. Despite the ambiguity surrounding what was ‘real’ and what was a ‘fallacy’, the fact remains that the scheme –although, is extremely important for keeping kids in schools — needs better management and execution. When asked what takes most of his time and effort on a daily basis, the Principal mentioned without flinching, “coordinating the MDMS.” Mostly their daily commitments include assembling kids for prayer, conducting classes and organizing the mid-day meals. Getting groceries and vegetables from the local depot also falls under the supervision of the principal, along with keeping accounts and supervising the execution of almost everything. Furthermore, he also teaches STD 1 & 2 to compensate for the lack of teachers in the school.

The time and effort that goes into planning, feeding and organizing food take a lot of attention of the management staff. Proper implementation committees need to be assigned and more funds need to be allocated for the execution of the MDMS and for engaging more stakeholders in the process.

4. Weakening Social Composition of Communities within Classrooms

There was a time when attending a ‘Sarkari’ school was a proud feeling within communities. However, over the years, even low-income groups prefer to invest in public education in contrast to sending their kids to the closest government schools. Not all children in one household will get this privilege through. Only the ones (mostly the talented ones) the parents can afford to pay the minimum fee.

There is some extent of ‘shame’ attached to attending government schools

Let’s understand it this way. In this particular school, out of the 100 students from STD 1 to 5, only 11 were in STD 5. “Out of these 11, 4 belong to backward classes, other 4 to schedule tribes and 1 to the local minority”, informed the principal. Although in an educational setup, it does not matter where the student comes from; a declining representation of communities has been on the rise. The principal mentioned that earlier, the school used to get enrollments and representation from all members of the community including SC/ST and other backward classes. “These days, only kids from extremely marginalized sections are enrolled in the school and despite many efforts, it is always extremely challenging to keep them motivated to come back to class each day”, he continued.

It is reported that community members, besides the majority of the local minorities, prefer sending their kids to private institutions as opposed to government schools. Once the school does manage to get first-generation learners enrolled from the community, it usually takes a year worth of effort on the teacher’s part to even familiarize the students with a first-time classroom environment until children get used to the idea of ‘coming to class daily’ and begin to read & write. Furthermore, a lot of instances have been observed where these students, enabled by parents, have gone and enrolled into other private institutions after the completion of one year. This further demotivates the teacher.

Conclusion: An Anchored Long-term Vision

As a professional with over 19 years of experience in the sector, the principal has been an integral part of the public education and development space. In his experience, he believes that change has come at a slow pace and not much has changed, especially in terms of pedagogy and design.“Pedagogy has not changed but infrastructure wise, we do get funds now including a sports kit which we received lately”, he commented.

There are many challenges when it comes to enabling quality primary education in rural India. The last ten years have been more dynamic than the last few decades, especially with the RTE and NEP mandates taking shape. However, while focusing on finding solutions, the principal suggests that the government — especially the UP-state administration should first and foremost fulfil the teacher’s vacancy in each and every school.

In a state, where 57% of STD 5 students cannot read STD 2 Hindi textbook (ASER 2016), enabling high learning standards at the primary level is imperative. And to enable that, motivated teachers along with dedicated and educated youth belonging to the same communities must be encouraged to join public education spaces. Furthermore, more awareness needs to be generated to disassociate the stigma attached to working as a teacher. Many understand this deserves more appreciation and collective action.

STD 4 and 5 students sit and study together.

P.S — In retrospect, (as of 2021) both organizations — despite dedicated and clear visions in sight — could not partner to work with STD 5 students. One of the biggest constraints for this was the lack of immediate funding to incept the partnership in UP. Both, E&H Foundation and SRI, are implementing their own programs in UP and Haryana. To support interventions, know more about the campaigns and make a contribution, visit:

End Notes

[1] Shamsabad is a Nagar Panchayat located approximately 30 km from the Farrukhabad district centre. Since 2012, E&H Foundation is implementing education and most recently, livelihood programs in the region in partnerships with other NGOs.

[2] E&H Foundation is a Delhi-based NGO working to provide quality education and healthcare to the underprivileged in India. Since 2012, E&H Foundation has facilitated quality primary education for over 20,000 underprivileged children from STD 1–5 across three districts of Uttar Pradesh in partnership with pedagogically proven and high impact models of education.

[3] Self Reliant India (SRI) is an NGO based out of Haryana working to provide education to students hailing from marginalized communities through remedial classroom model and whole school transformation in partnership with government schools.

[1] Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNV) is an alternative and residential system of schooling for meritorious students coming predominantly from rural areas of India. The schools provide free residential education for students from STD 6 until STD 12 along with promoting sports and holistic education. Admissions into JNVs are through an entrance examination. As per the policy of the government, one JNV is to be established in each district and as of 31st March 2019, a total of 661 JNVs are present across India.

To download my research paper (where I have also mentioned the bibliography/references in detail), visit Academia.

Poet | Writer I Researcher| IR Scholar |Senior Manager & Dev Professional // Stealing moments to be w kids on field https://thebigfatpoet.com/ @thebigfatpoet

Poet | Writer I Researcher| IR Scholar |Senior Manager & Dev Professional // Stealing moments to be w kids on field https://thebigfatpoet.com/ @thebigfatpoet