by LRS Correspondent
In the atmosphere of stark neglect that pervades the education infrastructure of Bihar, many students, almost all from poor, Dalit and Muslim families have been holding makeshift classes in protest in the streets of Bhojpur district which have now popularly become known as ‘Sadak Par’ schools. They have been protesting the poor and non-existent school facilities, including the lack of teachers, libraries, books, proper sanitation; caste-based discrimination and the overall state of neglect of government schools. Further, in a disturbing incident, Dalit students in a school in Agaion block were made to clean the school toilet with their own hands. Stirred to action, many people from these areas participated in the strident protests since mid-April.
Students protesting in Bhojpur. Credit: Javed Iqbal
During a typical Sadak Par protest, the students come with their parents to a pre-appointed place and demonstrate for 3-4 hours with posters of freedom fighters on display while local activists lead a discussion on the current educational and political condition. Classes on Math and English are also held during these protests. Many times, local government officials like the Block Development Officer (BDO), the Block Education Officer (BEO) have shown up at the protests and been grilled by the demonstrators. On July 25, after a month of such protests, the police filed an FIR against the demonstrators after it was evident that the protests were gaining momentum among the people in the district.
Bihar is one of the lowest spenders on elementary education (grades 1-8) in spite of having the second largest population aged between 5-14 years in India. Bihar also spends much less of its elementary education budget on teacher salaries, instead hiring a greater number on a contract basis (these contractual teachers are called para-teachers). However, it still faces an understaffing with 37.3% less teachers than required in elementary school. Teachers in the state are overburdened and face a high Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) of 50 as compared to the national average of 24. According to the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE), only 34.9% of elementary schools in the state have access to electricity (in Bhojpur, this figure is 25.4%) while 7.6% have a computer.
The national situation too, mirrors the dismal condition of education in the state. The government of India has been reducing its spending on education over the years. According to the 2017-18 budget, the allotment for education is 3.71% of the GDP. India also accompanies China in spending the least on education among BRICS nations.
Lok Raj Sangathan stands in solidarity with the people of Bhojpur district who are coming together and demanding accountability from the local government education authorities. They set a courageous and necessary example and their movement should sustain!