Mishrilal Sah of Harinagara Rural Municipality-4 is a peon at the Sitaram Primary School in the village. However, in absence of teachers, he runs classes. “It does not matter so much even if the teachers do not come. Rarely do students come to school,” he said while basking in the sun on Sunday afternoon. There are four teachers at the school and which has 68 students.
On Sunday, only four students were present in the school. They were Chandani Pandit, Fulkumari Pandit, Suraj Pandit, and Manika Swarnakar.
“We do not come to school every day. Nobody does,” Chandani said.
According to Fulkumari, her parents don't insist her to go to school regularly. “We come to school sometimes when we don't have household chores to attend. We can't come every day,” she said.
The students stated that they have to do household chores and sometimes they are handed over the duty of looking after their siblings. They shared that they don't feel the compulsion of coming to school every day and while saying that argued that even their teachers don't come to school regularly. “Even our teachers do not come always,” said Suraj. He added that many children in his community never go to school.
Even though the students claimed that the teachers do not come to school regularly, the school's teacher attendance register shows that they are regular except for the last few days. Even if the teachers come to school, they usually leave early, the students shared. “They take attendance and leave the school,” Suraj said.
Locals stated that most of the children in the locality don't have a birth certificate and this has held them back from joining school.
Sah called a teacher Ala Udin Ansari to the school. Ansari shared that most of the children enrolled in the school are from the Musahar community. Since they come from families with poor financial background and lack of awareness about the importance of education, only a few of them are regular.
“We have tried to persuade them for being regular to school and focus on education, but still they do not come. There is a lack of awareness among them about the importance of education,” he said.
He further shared that the school even tried to switch to English as the medium of instruction to attract more students. However, that did not happen. “If we had been able to adopt English as the medium of instruction, the school would have been able to draw more students. Children of families belonging to middle and upper middle classes would join,” he said. “But without good facilities, parents who can afford to send children to private schools, don't admit their wards in this school,” he added.
Presently also the school is trying to switch the medium of instruction to English and Ansari said that they are hopeful that their efforts will pay off this time. However, he declined to comment on why the teachers are irregular.
There are many such community schools in the district, which are almost on the verge of closure. In lack of regular students, teachers and proper management, they are running very poorly.
BP Primary School of the same village is even a sorry state. Neither teacher, nor students were present at the school when Republica team visited it on Monday. Locals said that the school often remains closed. “Not even single child comes to this school. Even teachers are seen once in a while,” said Jalina Khatun a local resident.
Khatun said that the school is located near the settlement of Muslim community. Children from the community go to Madrasa. “Children from the Muslim community are sent to Madrasa then that school,” she said while sharing that she feels that it is important for the Muslim kids to receive education in community schools.
Locals stated that most of the children in the locality don't have a birth certificate and this has held them back from joining school. To get admission in the school, the parents are required to submit the child's birth certificate.
Khatun states that the families, which do not have property ownership documents, cannot make birth certificate or any other official document. “So, poor people get deprived of many such things,” she noted.
Binod Prasad Gupta, a teacher at the BP Primary School, was of the opinion that the government must bring different program or package to educate poor kids. Until and unless their problems are addressed in a focused way, children from such marginalized communities are not going to be educated, he stated. “We should not consider child's enrollment in school as success. What should be noted is whether the child is learning or not. Until and unless we are going to come up with special program for those children, we cannot help them,” he said.
There are 382 community schools in entire Sunsari district. According to District Education Officer, Khagendra Subedi, many schools in the district do not have adequate number of students. “Now, the local government should address this issue,” he said.