More Women, Marginalised Community Teachers In Bihar’s Public Schools. But The Good News Ends There

Only 20% of students attend primary schools in Bihar’s Araria and Katihar districts, revealing a grim post-pandemic state of government schools.

There is an acute shortage of teachers in Bihar’s government schools, a crisis worsened by rampant absenteeism among the faculty and poor infrastructure, shows a survey of 81 government primary and upper-primary schools in the northern districts of Katihar and Araria. These problems are driving children to private coaching centres that families can barely afford. 

The recently released report,“Where are the Kids?”, is based on a survey conducted in January and February 2023 by the Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan, a trade union of unorganised sector workers, along with Road Scholarz, a network of freelance scholars and student volunteers that evaluates the functioning of welfare schemes in India. 

As per the Right To Education (RTE) Act, there should be one teacher for every 30 students. The Bihar survey reveals an abysmal pupil-teacher-ratio (PTR) – 95% of the upper-primary schools and 65% of primary schools investigated had more than 30 students for each teacher. Only 21% of all schools surveyed showed better figures. In India, Bihar reports the worst PTR – at 54 students/per teacher in primary schools, 55 in secondary schools and 63 in higher secondary schools, according to the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) 2021-22 report, a comprehensive database that collects, stores, and manages data related to school education across the country. Sikkim performed the best, with one teacher for every 10 students on an average. 

The report further finds a high level of teacher absenteeism. On average, only 58% of appointed teachers were found on duty during the survey. Student attendance was “abysmal” both in primary and upper-primary schools. “In primary schools, only 23% of children enrolled were present at the time of the survey. Pupil attendance was even lower in upper-primary schools – just 20%,” the report says.

The report also pointed to routine inflation of attendance figures in school registers. “But even the inflated figures are very low: 44% and 40% in primary and upper-primary schools,” the report says.

More Women Teachers In Public Schools But Not In Colleges

The one positive finding in the study is the increased representation of women and socially disadvantaged groups among teachers in rural Bihar. Over 40% of teachers appointed in primary and upper-primary schools are women. While, the rest of the cadre made up of SC, ST, OBC and Muslim communities, is numerically close to its respective social composition of the population of rural Bihar.

Social Composition of sample teachers and Bihar population. *Census of India 2011 for SC and ST. Second India Human Development Survey (2011-2012) for OBC and Muslim. The last figure was inferred by subtraction from 100%. Column totals = 100. Source: “Where Are The Kids?”

 Over 40% of teachers appointed in primary and upper-primary schools are women. While, the rest of the cadre made up of SC, ST, OBC and Muslim communities, is numerically close to its respective social composition of the population of rural Bihar.

Overall, in India, there has been a steady increase in the number of female teachers in government schools. In the year 2022, more than 51% of the total teachers in government schools were women, as per the latest UDISE+ report. Of the 36 states and union territories, 21 had more female than male teachers. 

In Jharkhand and Rajasthan, less than 40% of teachers were females, while Tamil Nadu had the highest number of female teachers at 75%. However, within higher educational institutions, men continue to outnumber women. For every 100 male teachers, there are 75 female teachers, according to the latest All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report, 2021-22.

Loss of Learning, Lack of Mid-Day Meal Workers

School closures due to Covid-19 caused massive learning losses. Half the schools questioned during the survey reported that most students in Classes 3-5 had forgotten to read and write by the time schools reopened. Little has been done to make up for these losses and other adverse effects of prolonged school closure on children’s education and wellbeing, the report found.

One-fifth of the schools reported inadequate midday meal budgets and issues like under-budgeting for eggs. Even though 95% of the schools reported providing one egg per week per child, many respondent teachers complained that the egg allowance was below the market price. The report also refers to a strong “Brahmanical opposition” to eggs. 

The shortage of mid-day meal cooks adds to the work burden of teachers who now have to cook, taking away valuable teaching time, says Paran Amitava, a researcher in Jharkhand working on public schooling, and one of the researchers of the report. “The honorariums of mid-day meal cooks, who are mostly women, has not increased in the past five years. They earn a pittance, barely Rs 50 a day which deters many of them from taking up this work,” adds Amitava. 

In 2019, thousands of mid-day meal workers, primarily women, held a 40-day protest in Patna demanding higher honorariums, social security benefits, and government employee status. The state chief minister Nitish Kumar eventually increased their pay from Rs 1250 to only Rs 1500, but refused to grant them formal work status. 

Most schools have women headmistresses, adds Amitava. “But they barely exercise any control. It is their husbands who are the main decision makers,” adds Amitava.

Failure of Direct Benefit Transfers, and Poor Infrastructure

In 2017, the Bihar government replaced the direct distribution of textbooks and uniforms to government schools with cash transfers. Under the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) system, money is sent to children’s bank accounts (or to their parent’s accounts) on the understanding that it will be used for buying uniforms or textbooks. However, most students have neither uniforms or textbooks, the report finds.

Since most children studying in government schools come from disadvantaged Scheduled Caste and Tribe families, the DBT system imposes a cruel choice between buying textbooks and uniforms and spending on basic necessities. Another reason is the failure of the DBT money reaching its intended beneficiaries. The money is conditional on 75% school attendance, and also requires an Aadhaar-linked bank account, which the survey argues is a possible barrier to the scheme. Not only is it a violation of the RTE Act, where school children have an unconditional right to textbooks, demanding Aadhaar from school children is a violation of a 2019 Supreme Court order.

Schools have dismal infrastructure and amenities, especially at the primary level, the report finds. Most primary schools (90%) have no proper boundary wall, playground or library. Some (9%) do not even have a building.

“We also found that most of the schools did not have functional washrooms. This not only deters girl students from enrolling in schools, but also many female teachers from joining the school,” says Amitava. Only 63% of schools in Bihar had toilets for girl students according to data from the latest Annual Status of Education (ASER) report.

Increase in Private Tuitions

These issues have pushed many school children in rural north Bihar into seeking private tuitions. “A nexus has been formed between dysfunctional government schools and private tuitions, where the role of the school has been reduced to merely providing a midday meal and arranging examinations,” says the report. 

However, in a letter dated July 31, 2023 KK Pathak, additional chief secretary in Bihar’s education department, had asked all district magistrates to ensure that coaching institutes do not operate during school timings – 9 am to 4 pm. 

  • Ankita Dhar is a reporter with Behanbox. She is also a digital artist whose artwork has documented political prisoners in India.

Malini Nair (Editor)

Malini Nair is a consulting editor with Behanbox. She is a culture writer with a keen interest in gender.

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