The cacophony and clamour from the street outside their school building that permeates the classrooms may have distracted ordinary children in an ordinary school. But the 110 children who study at the Pragnarain Mook Badhir Vidyalaya, located at Sasni Gate in the busy heart of Aligarh, are not ordinary children, and neither is their school. The children are hearing-impaired and pursue their education against tremendous personal and social odds, their disability being just one of them.
The school, which has recognition for offering specialised teaching for hearing-impaired children up to Std 8, is the only one of its kind in six districts, including Aligarh. Started in 1967 by its present Principal, Ramji Lal Mathuria, an early specialist and teacher for the hearing-impaired, it has worked with quiet efficiency over the last 23 years in mainstreaming thousands of hearing-impaired boys and girls from poor families -- children who would otherwise have been left by the wayside -- onto the track of formal education.
The Pragnarain school, despite its creditable record, now faces the threat of closure owing to a retrograde grant-in-aid norm drawn up by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
From 2007-08, the Ministry has imposed a five percent cut in grant-in-aid to non-government organisations every two years, including schools for the disabled like Pragnarain. This, according to an official circular, is to “enable Voluntary Organisations to raise funds at their own level and reduce their dependence on the government”. For this school, the writing on the wall could not be clearer: once their grant runs out, it must close.
“To expect us to collect donations to run the school, given the indifference among the rich towards the disabled in our country, is unrealistic,” said Mr. Mathuria. “Till 2007-2008, we somehow managed to run on the grants we received, but with the cuts, this will be impossible.” The school has nine trained teachers, and the grants covered 90 per cent of their honorariums of Rs. 4,200 for a trained teacher and Rs. 2,800 for an assistant teacher, a full 50 per cent less than what government primary school teachers get.
“A school like ours should be taken over by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, or the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, as our students are taught the regular State Board syllabus. Our children should be eligible for free uniforms, books, and the mid-day meal. And we have no money to invest in infrastructure,” said the indefatigable Mr. Mathuria, who has knocked on the doors of countless ministerial and bureaucratic offices at the centre and state with the appeal that the school be taken over by the HRD ministry as part of its national school system.
Blissfully ignorant of the threat that looms over their education, the students of Pragnarain school are fully immersed in the adventure of learning with their remarkably committed band of special trainers. Amongst them is 10 year-old Yash, who proudly reads a poem off the blackboard; young Lokendra, the industrious solver of math problems; and Shubham, who above all loves talking.
“God give me speech,” reads a message painted prominently on a wall. With the state threatening to take away their very right to education, divine intervention may be all the school can hope for.