They shun local government schools in their craze for English medium education

School children in well-pressed uniform and shoes, with neatly combed hair, loads of talcum powder on face, carrying a diary to note down homework, travelling in a van and parents who take pride on their children studying in English medium schools do not remain a preserve of the cities any more.

These things are increasingly becoming common in villages. Rural folk who shun local government schools, do not mind making their children travel as far as 15 kilometres a day to private schools. This obsession with private schools could be seen even at a nondescript village, Jothilnaickanur, situated 13 km from Usilampatti.

This village is home to a pre-Independence era institution — a Panchayat Union Middle School, functioning since March 23, 1940. Established initially as a primary school, it got upgraded in 1982. But the student strength has dwindled to just 120 now, with an equal number of children from the village studying in private schools.

“The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act - 2009 stresses the concept of neighbourhood schooling. But it is taking a beating even in rural government schools like this because of the false pride that parents take in educating their children in private schools,” rues S.Manoharan, the headmaster of the school.

A person travelling by bus to Jothilnaickanur from Usilampatti has to get down at the 12th kilometre on the main road leading to Ezhumalai and walk down for over a kilometre as there is no other mode of public transport to the village. School vans of private institutions are the only vehicles that ply regularly to the village for transporting the students.

Hard-earned money

Around 1,000 families reside in the village and most of the villagers are agricultural labourers, masons, painters and work in rice mills in Usilampatti. Yet, they do not mind spending anywhere between Rs.5,000 and Rs.7,000 a year for their children’s education in private schools.

In order to curb this practice, the Panchayat Union School collected Rs.15 each from its students in 2011 and purchased ties and belts for them. “But the system did not yield expected results, because being a government institution, we could not insist on ties and belts,” said M.Ramar, who conducts Activity-Based Learning (ABL) classes in the school.

Teachers M.C.Santhanalakshmi and M.Shanthi said the education imparted at their school was in no way inferior to that offered by other schools. “Many students who studied in our school had scored more than 400 out of 500 marks in the recently held Standard X public examination,” Ms.Santhanalakshmi said.

M.Maheshkumar, panchayat vice-president, and V.Chellam, a tea shop owner — both alumni of the school — vouched for the quality of education at their alma mater. The duo abhorred the practice of parents making a beeline for private schools and even suggested that the government should enact a law to ensure neighbourhood schooling.

However, their rhetoric came to an end the moment another villager dropped a bombshell by questioning the wisdom of the panchayat school alumni sending their children to private schools. Caught unawares, Mr.Chellam tried to justify his decision by stating that he had admitted his child in a private school because pre-kindergarten was not available in the Panchayat Union School.

On his part, Mr.Maheshkumar said: “I admitted my son in a private school because I wanted him to improve his knowledge. Though I wanted to withdraw him from that school this year on completion of Standard III, they refused to give me a Transfer Certificate until he completed Standard V.”