Lack of clarity over management, poor infrastructure and many more things serve as hindrance

It is about two years since the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 came into force and one year since the Supreme Court upheld its Constitutional validity. Yet the legislation seems to have made very little difference to the quality of education provided to the weaker sections and disadvantaged groups here.

The situation is so worse that many local body run schools in the city do not even know the management under which they fall. Three municipalities, four town panchayats and 11 panchayats were annexed to the Madurai Municipal Corporation on September 28, 2010. But the schools in these local bodies are still awaiting a formal government order recognising them as Corporation schools.

The stalemate has led to a lack of uniformity as some had already changed their name boards claiming to be Corporation schools while the others retained the old name boards identifying themselves as schools run by the Panchayat Union. The students as well as teachers of these institutions are in a quandary over what type of school they were studying or working in.

Agreeing that there was no clarity on the issue, Corporation Education Officer R. Mathialagan Raj said: “As of now, the Corporation manages only 66 schools that fall under 72 wards. After the expansion of the Corporation limits, the total number of wards has increased to 100. We are yet to take charge of schools in the 28 new wards for want of necessary orders.”

On the other hand, headmistress of a middle school, earlier run by the Madurai East Panchayat Union but now carrying a Corporation School board, at Uthangudi here, claimed that it was the Corporation which erected the new board after painting the buildings. Though the buildings were painted nothing was done to set right broken drinking water taps and classroom windows.

Asked how it could claim to be a Corporation school without formal orders, she said the teachers had already begun paying professional tax to the Corporation. However, M.S. Subbulakshmi, headmistress of another middle school at Mudakkathan, now under Corporation limits, said that her school continued to be called as Madurai West Panchayat Union School for want of necessary instructions.

The biggest menace faced by her school was the frequent defacing of its compound wall with posters. Though some of the school students who spoke to The Hindu claimed to be involved in the work of removing those posters every now and then, the headmistress denied the allegations.

“We spent Rs.8,000 from the school maintenance funds last year to paint the entire wall. To avoid posters, we wrote couplets from Thirukkural and slogans highlighting the importance of education on the wall. But it did not work. These posters are pasted during night hours and cannot be prevented for want of a watchman for the school,” she added.

The school has nine teachers and 250 students. Apart from them there are no other non-teaching staff members. “The teachers have engaged a private sweeper who is paid by us by pooling in personal contributions every month. In fact, it is the teachers who are doing the menial jobs too for the school and spending money from our pockets for its betterment. We never trouble students,” Ms. Subbulakshmi asserted.

If such was the state of schools that were yet to come under Corporation control, the plight of some schools that were already with the Corporation was no different. A case in point is Krishnapuram Colony Corporation Middle School which is all set to complete 50 years of its establishment this year. The school has been soliciting private sponsors to celebrate its golden jubilee for want of separate funds to commemorate such momentous occasions.

This school with a total strength of 175 students does not have separate teachers for streams such as Physical Education Training and artwork because as per norms the combined student strength between classes 6 and 8 should be over 100 for the allotment of separate P.E.T. or Art teachers. In result, the students here were denied of the benefit of participating in such extra curricular activities.

M. Oviya Govindan, a 19-year-old Madurai girl, currently undergoing her fourth year integrated masters programme in Development Studies at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, says that all her academic achievements were possible only because she was lucky to have attended a private school which provided her the exposure required to excel and exhibit her talents.

She had won an international student essay contest on sustainable development last year and got an all paid trip to attend a conference at Berlin in Germany. “I was able to do this because I had access to the Internet. When I was in school I had seen government school students come out with excellent ideas during science exhibitions. So, I am sure they would also excel if they get the exposure,” she added.

Expressing his views on what is that he feels must be done to improve his schooling experience, 14-year-old J. Manikanda Prabhu, a seventh standard student of a Government Higher Secondary School at Y. Othakadai and a child being brought up by his grandmother and paternal uncle after the death of his parents, says that ensuring discipline among students is the foremost requirement.

“Ours is a higher secondary school and we get to see the older children indulging in all kinds of wrong activities. This has to change,” he said. On his part, M. Mohammed Hasanudeen, a Standard Six student of the same school and a native of Kalayarkovil in Sivaganga district, says that his parents had admitted him in a hostel for Muslim students in Madurai with the fond hope of making him study well.

“My father works as a cook in Malaysia and mother lives in Kalayarkovil with my younger sister and brother. I was not good in studies. So, she thought I might study well if admitted in a boarding school. But since my family cannot afford private boarding schools, she admitted me in the government school here and made me stay in the hostel run for charity,” he said.

It is for providing better amenities for children like him that Section 8 and 9 of the RTE Act lists out the duties of the government and the local bodies to provide quality education at no cost. But the irony remains that students of many government schools in the district are yet to be provided with as basic a requirement as free footwear for the present academic year even though it had commenced as early as in July last.