It is a tale of two institutions located close to each other, yet are miles apart in terms of infrastructure. One is the majestic Madras High Court Bench campus situated on a sprawling 106-acre campus and the other is a 44-year-old Corporation Primary School functioning in the midst of cows, dogs and dirt.
Established in a thatched shed in 1969 under the administration of the erstwhile Uthangudi panchayat, which merged with Madurai Corporation in 2011, the school got its first concrete building with a single hall for all five classes in 1976. A second hall was added in the 1990s. However, there has not been much progress since, except for the laying of floor tiles in the two halls last year.
As of now, all 93 students of the school are accommodated in the two halls — one of which serves the dual purpose of teaching students of Class I and II apart from storing rice bags and provisions meant for the noon meal scheme.
The other hall is used as a classroom for Standards III, IV and V. The students squat on the floor facing three different directions, according to the class they attend.
There are only three teachers for five classes in the school, even though while deciding a case related to the appointment of teachers in government schools in 2008, the Madras High Court Bench condemned the practice of determining teacher strength on the basis of the total strength of students in a school and ruled that a teacher should be appointed for every class irrespective of the number of students in a class or school.
These shortcomings apart, what has been bothering residents of the locality the most is the absence of a compound wall around the school and unavailability of safe drinking water. P. Dhanalakshmi, parent of a school student, says the absence of the compound wall encourages anti-social elements to use the space near the entrance to one of the school halls for consuming liquor at night.
She also points out that much of the school land had been encroached on owing to non-demarcation of its boundaries. What’s more, the students remain under constant threat of being bitten by stray dogs and hurt by cows and bulls that roam around the classrooms in search of leftover food items. The other nuisance is the use of the school grounds as a thoroughfare by motorists.
R. Tamilarasi, another parent, says only half in jest that anyone who drinks water from a concrete tank in the school will die within minutes as it is infested with so much of filth and moss apart from being a haven for lizards and insects. “It has been years since anyone cleaned the tank. Three of the four taps on the tank are broken and we don’t allow our children even to touch the water in it,” she adds.
The school has a noon meal organiser, cook and an assistant. All of them, including the teachers, are women. “The Corporation should appoint a male helper or send some male conservancy workers to clean the water tank regularly because it will not be possible for women to clean the tank after moving the heavy concrete slabs placed over it,” Ms. Tamilarasi points out.
The residents also stress the need for the authorities to retrieve the encroached school land as it is shrinking in size. . “As far as I remember, the school was started with 89 cents of land. Gradually people encroached most of it with the connivance of politicians,” an elederly resident said.
“To sum up, you can say that this is a classic example of how a school should not be. But poor people like us have no other choice but to put up with whatever we are provided with,” Ms. Dhanalakshmi laments.