128-year-old Udupi school lacks facilities, now confined to migrant children

Four make-shift classrooms function from a hall, teachers huddle at library in the absence of a staff room, and children are left to fantasise about playing cricket and kabaddi — this is how one can summarise Mahatma Gandhi Government Higher Primary (Kannada Medium) School, popularly called ‘Main School’.

One of the five oldest schools in the city and located opposite the Udupi City Municipal Council (CMC) office on Kavi Muddana Road, this school today has only 122 students. All of them come from the migrant workers colony in Beedinagudde. Established in 1885, Main School used to get at least 300 students until a couple of decades ago.

“Nearly 90 per cent of the students are children of migrant workers from Bagalkot district. The remaining 10 per cent are from other districts of North Karnataka,” said Shambhu Suvarna, Headmaster of the school.

Despite efforts to improve enrolments, the student strength in the last few years has been hovering around the 100-150 mark. In addition to free uniforms, textbooks, midday meals and milk provided by the government, philanthropists have been providing notebooks and other stationeries.

“The emergence of nuclear families with couples preferring one or two children, and the desire to send their children to English medium schools has led to a decline in the intake,” said Mr. Suvarna.

The dwindling number of students saw a portion of the school building getting converted into Block Education Office about 15 years ago. As a result, Classes IV, V, VI and VII are taught in one hall separated by wooden partition walls.

Manjula R., a Class VII student, thinks the noise coming from the neighbouring class is always a distraction. “I can hear lessons being taught in Class VI. It becomes too difficult to concentrate on our classes. It would have been better if there were separate classrooms.”

Only indoor games

The school spread on just 19 cents of land, has no playground. Students have to remain content with playing indoor games such as carrom, chess and ludo. “I love playing badminton, volley ball, and kabaddi. It would have been really nice if we had a playground,” said Ramesh Kumar, a Class VII student.

Until last year, the school got a monthly grant of Rs. 8,000 to ferry students to and from their colony under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Now teachers pool in Rs. 4,000 a month from their salaries to hire a van to carry 30 young children (from Class I to Class IV) from the colony and back.

However, P. Nagaraj, Deputy Project Coordinator of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, said rules did not permit giving travelling allowance if there are schools in the neighbourhood. He also said it would be difficult to undertake any construction, but promised to raise the height of the wooden partition to prevent distraction.

Nityananda Volakadu, an alumnus of Main School and former municipal councillor, said the school had a playground, which was given away to build a nursing quarters 15 years ago. “I will give a memorandum to the Education Minister demanding a playground,” he said.

However a teacher in the school said that elected representatives were not interested in the development of the school as migrant workers did not constitute a vote bank.

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