Ujjawal wakes up at 5:30 am every day, gets ready, gets on his bicycle and rides to the school. On his way, he is joined by his friends, and all of them merrily head to the school, which is two kilometre away from his village — Jagdishpur of Samastipur district, Bihar. This is the same mirthful picture of a school-going kid that we have seen in the movies. But, this serene sequence is broken when these student reach their school. Unlike private schools, the government’s education system continues to go from bad to worse in Bihar as well. The scenario could be reflected by the very fact that the Bihar government has now adopted the policy of transferring the money to accounts of students for purchasing books. Experts believe that the policy will severely affect the education of students.
Benju Kumari — mother of the 10-year-old Ujjawal — complains that the students are not provided with books. Last year, her son was able to get hold of a few old books, but this year, there are no books. The teachers teach according to their wish, she says. There is no book they can refer to.
Ujjawal’s elder brother Utpal, who is 13 years old, repeats the same story. “Mostly, the government school-going students are the children of daily wage labourers. They are illiterate; they want their children to study but don’t know the channel via which they can raise their voice,” says Benju Kumari.
Books or Money?
Due to unavailability of the books, government has introduced a new policy. Instead of books, money will be transferred into the accounts of the students. Many activists have condemned this development. They believe this is a clear conspiracy to deepen the gap between availability and access, so, that the poor can’t be uplifted. “I believe, this to be a conspiracy, they don’t want the poor to study. Publishers are not provided with pages. How will they publish the books?” questioned Anil Kumar Roy, an activist.
Students and parents are failing to understand where the money will be transferred. Neither students nor their parents have bank accounts. Roy told Newsclick, “Thirty-two per cent bank accounts have been created until now. The creation for the rest is under process.”
In Bihar, many villages are not well-connected and not many banks have branches in all of these villages. To obtain cash, one has to cover long distances. Commentators believe that for a daily labourer, money means food, not books. “Why will a poor man travel long distance to a bank to dispense cash for buying books? For him, the primary need is food. He will use the money likewise,” Benju said.
Recently, many schools were closed down in Bihar because of dearth of adequate infrastructure and now students are suffering because of no books. “Around 1,773 schools were closed down because of no infrastructure. You can well imagine the condition of government schools in Bihar,” added Roy.