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School Entrance Festival

School Entrance Festival

K. V. Dominic

Dear readers, I am going to present before you a story which is more a reality in my own State, Kerala, the most literate one, situating in the southern part of India.

Vidya is five year old now. She has a younger brother aged three. Her father and mother are construction labourers.  But the father deserted the family two years back and stays with another lady. The mother has been looking after the children continuing her daily labour. They are staying in a rented hut paying Rs. 1000 per month. The fate is crueler to them and the mother is a diabetic patient now, not able to go for work, and the family is cared by her poor old parents and auto rickshaw driver, brother.

When Vidya was destined to study in an anganwadi (child service centre of the central government), her friends in the neighborhood studied in LKGs and UKGs run by upper class private managements. She had to walk two kilometers to reach her anganwadi, which was just a makeshift cow shed. Her mates there were all like her, coming from very poor families, clad in cheap dress. Vidya could only dream of gaudy, high quality dress which her friends in the neighbourhood wore for schools. She looked with thirsty eyes the way her neighbor tots went in dazzling school uniforms and tempting bags to their schools in the town in their school buses. They all had five or more pairs of dress whereas she had to contend with only two and that too faded and torn here and there. Vidya could get lunch from the anganwadi—rice and lentil curry—the chief temptation for all the little ones there. She would bring some rice and curry for her brother too, which her teacher was kind enough to supply, learning the pathetic condition of her house.

Now I am taking your attention to St. Mark’s High School, a government aided corporate management school in the town. It had a proud profile in the glorious past—a model school to other schools in the State. There were 1500 pupils with five divisions each from first standard to tenth and there were more than 60 teachers. Cent percent passed in the Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) examinations. Ironically, the present state of the school is very deplorable. The school has become ‘uneconomic’ and under the constant threat of extinction. The strength has come down to fifty pupils and fifteen teachers and single division to all standards. The school could still maintain the cent percent result for the SSLC, but the candidates are only five.

The manager of the school, Fr. Philipose has called for an urgent staff meeting. The head master and teachers are assembled in the staff room. After a silent prayer the meeting started.

“Respected Headmaster and my dear teachers,” the manager opened the discussion. “The school will reopen next week after the vacation. First of June is the entrance fest. We haven’t got any pupil for the first standard. Last year we could get a child somehow. What will we do? We will lose the first standard and that will be the first death knell to the school.”

“Let Smitha teacher, who is in charge of the first standard, find tots from somewhere. Our teachers and the management are responsible for the present pathetic situation. The teachers should have sent their children to this school and thus showed model to all parents. Where have their children studied except mine? They sent to CBSE English medium private schools. To make things worse, our corporate management also started such unaided schools. Pupils’ numbers are decreasing every year as part of population control, but the numbers of unaided schools are increasing. Education has become the most profitable business,” Chacko sir spoke.

“What Chacko sir said is true. It is hypocritical for you to meet the poor parents and ask for their children,” the manger continued. “Even when the corporate management has opened unaided schools you should have sent your children to your own school. Now you may collectively search for a pupil or two just to retain our first standard. Smitha teacher can’t get one seeking alone. Tomorrow itself you have all to go under the leadership of the headmaster to the poor houses where little children haven’t joined schools.”

“We shall do as Father has requested. As to get a pupil is like buying one. We will have to spend for it as we did last year. Whatever be the demand from the parents, we have to accept it. Let’s take the collective responsibility and we will divide the expense among us,” the headmaster, Philip sir said.

All the teachers agreed to this suggestion and the next day itself the whole staff set out to the neighbourhood in search of tots for the first standard. Being local teachers they knew very well which houses bore young children. They got into such houses one after another but the tots in those houses had already joined CBSE English medium schools paying a large amount as admission fee, tuition fee, PTA fund, anniversary fee etc. Finally they came to Vidya’s house. Vidya’s mother and brother could understand sufficiently early the high demand for their child since she was the only one in the neighbourhood who was destined to study in any Malayalam medium aided/government school. They had also learned how the present pupil in the second standard was given all facilities including financial help to the family last year.

“Sister, we are teachers of St. Mark’s High School,” the headmaster introduced them to Vidya’s mother. “We have learnt that your child is of age to join the first standard. We request you to send her to our school.”

“True our Vidya is five years old and has to join in some school. Have you got any other child for the first standard?” the mother asked.

“None, but we are seeking,” the head master said.

“If we could afford to, we would have sent her to an English medium school in the town. We are poor people unlike you. You who are seeking pupils now for your school never sent your own children to your school. Why, because you have no faith in your teaching as well as the standard of your school. You didn’t want to risk your children’s education and future. You are now running for your own protection of service and high salary. Sorry, you are all educated people and who am I to speak to you so. Teachers from other aided L.P. schools as well as those of government High school in the town approached us yesterday and day before yesterday. They offered the child three sets of uniform, school bag, umbrella and free conveyance. Do you know how we live here? I am a diabetic patient and can’t go for any work. Thanks to my brother, who is an auto rickshaw driver, we are surviving. I need injections every day. If you can meet our family’s expense as well as what the child needs, we shall give you our child,” Vidya’s mother replied.

“How much do you need for a month, food and medicine? Kindly don’t exploit us but calculate just for your necessities,” the headmaster said.

“We are using ration rice from the government shop and never go for any delicacies. For food we need Rs. 5000, rent Rs. 1000 and Rs. 2000 for my medicine. Vidya can’t walk alone all the two kilometers to the school. So an auto rickshaw has to be arranged for her which needs Rs. 2000. So if you give us Rs. 10000 per month we will give you our child. In addition you have to give her three sets of uniforms, school bag and umbrella. I am demanding only bare minimum since you are all my native teachers,” the mother replied.

“Ok, we agree. Take this as June’s charge in advance,” the headmaster gave the mother Rs. 10000 from his wallet. “Where is Vidya? Kindly call her.”

“She is playing with her friends in the neigbourhood. I will call her right now,” the mother said.

“Vidya, please come here. Your teachers have come,” the mother called her.

Vidya came running, with sweating face. She blushed when she saw such a group of teachers.

“Vidya, these are your teachers. You are going to join in the first standard of St. Mark’s High School,” the mother told her.

“Who are my friends there?” Vidya asked.

There was silence for some time. The headmaster then told her, “Sure, you will have friends there.” Poor Vidya believed those words. “Vidya take this,” Smitha teacher took a packet of sweets from her bag and gave to her. Vidya’s face beamed with joy when she received the packet.

“Next Monday is the reopening day of the school and there is entrance festival. You should come with Vidya by 9.45 am. She will be given new uniform, bag, text books and note books and umbrella by the school manager. If Vidya doesn’t have new dress now we will bring a pair within two days,” the headmaster continued.

“She has no good dress sir,” the mother replied.

“Then we will bring it day after tomorrow,” the headmaster replied.

By 9.45 am on Monday Vidya along with her mother arrived in the school in new dress in her uncle’s auto rickshaw. As part of the entrance festival, the front gate of the school was decorated with palm leaves arch and multicoloured balloons. When the first bell rang all the fifty pupils of the school in their uniforms assembled in two rows at the entrance of the school to receive the new member, Vidya. Tots of the LP level were holding balloons in their hands while pupils of the UP and HS were carrying bouquets of flowers. The headmaster, teachers and school leader marched to the gate to receive Vidya. The school leader, Jasmine was in the front. She gave a big beautiful bouquet of flowers to Vidya and they marched back to the headmaster’s room while pupils on either side of them showered petals of flowers on Vidya. Just like a guard of honour to a VVIP, Vidya was led to the headmaster’s room. The manger Fr. Philipose was there in the headmaster’s room and he received Vidya with presents of chocolates, uniform, bag and umbrella. Vidya was highly elated. She was then taken by Smitha teacher to her class. The class was decorated with flowers and balloons. There were a few small chairs for the tots.

“Teacher, where are the other pupils? Am I alone?” Vidya, a bit dejected, asked.

“No Vidya. Others will join tomorrow,” Smitha teacher told a lie.

Yes, Vidya’s school life started. For the next ten months she will be alone in her class with her teacher, Smitha. For Smitha teacher it’s a great relief for she can continue there without being transferred to some other remote school of the corporate management. Her salary of Rs. 40000 per month is protected by the government for teaching just one pupil. It’s not a lone case in Kerala. There are hundreds of Vidyas and Smitha teachers in thousands of schools across the State.

 

Note: According to the RTI information gathered by an NGO All-India Save Education Committee, there are currently 2,577 schools in the state that have less than 50 students on their rolls. Out of these 1,217 are government schools and 1,360 are aided schools. Interestingly, there are seven Lower Primary Schools in the state which do not have even a single student. While four schools have one student each on their rolls, the number of schools having less than 10 students is 109. According to a circular of the Department of General Education in 2012, schools from lower primary to high school-level which have less than 60 students (average of 15 students in a class) are termed uneconomic. (The New Indian Express 31 May 2014)