ASIFABAD : Amidst the cacophony from the one-room Tribal Welfare Primary School (TWPS) in Pawarguda of Kumurambheem Asifabad district, it was difficult to precisely discern the language being spoken by the students or the teacher. Nestled deep in the hilly forest areas, Pawarguda is situated close to Chandra-pur in neighbouring Maharashtra.
The different languages spoken by the students and their teacher, the unfamiliarity of the script in the textbooks, and the surroundings create an alien linguistic environment for the students.
This is the norm in many schools across the region. Most of the students, hailing from tribal communities, either speak Kolami or Andh, while the teacher, who completed his education in Marathi years ago, spoke Gondi. While the textbooks are in Telugu or English, the residents speak mostly Marathi, apart from their indigenous languages.
Incredulously, the Tribal Welfare Department decided to merge the schools from Class 3 about two years ago. Officials have asked the teachers to compulsorily enroll all children of Class 3 into Telugu medium residential ashram schools.
As a result, primary schools in the region function only till Class 2. This means that enrolment is relatively low. Most of the schools here don’t have more than 25 students, said sources.
Resources minimum, but teachers toil hard
The Tribal Welfare Department runs 1,920 of the 43,000 schools across the state. However, almost 40% (765) of such schools are managed by single teachers. Kumurambheem Asifabad district has the highest number of single-teacher schools in the state at 489, followed by 340 in Nalgonda and 297 in Bhadradri Kothagudem. In the rural parts of Gadwal, 67 such schools could be found. Additionally, another 285 schools across the district are managed by two teachers.
While the TWPS Pawarguda was supposed to be a Disha Model School with full-fledged infrastructure, as many as 20 students were sitting on the floor when TNIE visited the school. The children have no option but to relieve themselves in bathrooms with no doors. Soon after the lunch break, the teacher had to attend a mandal-level meeting, forcing the end of the day for the students much earlier than the scheduled closing time.
Schools across the region encounter similar challenges: rundown classrooms, unhygienic toilets, absence of a drinking water facility, absent compound walls, and insufficient staff for maintenance. Experts say that teachers in such areas often have to make do with the minimum resources, as a result of which the quality of education is affected. There are no libraries and no emphasis on extracurricular activities, which are crucial for the overall development of a student, they added.
In another single-teacher school in Jainoor mandal, of the 15 enrolled students, only six were present. Several were absent, engaged in cotton collection with their parents or attending the last rites of a person from a nearby village. The lone teacher, requesting anonymity, mentioned that another teacher was recently deputed to the school. Despite the challenging circumstances, everyone entered the classroom, sidestepping a dead puppy on the stairs. Later, one of the students was tasked with its disposal.
In Kokhaguda village, where approximately 20 students should be attending, only six were enrolled, and merely three actively participated in school activities. Waman Rao, an elderly teacher at the local TWPS, whose employment was extended after retirement, said, “We ring the school bell, sweep the floors, and traverse the village to summon students.”
Even if not fully utilized for educational purposes, schools in this region serve various purposes. For instance, the TWPS Panapatar became a refuge for menstruating women due to social distancing superstitions. During the day, they engage in agricultural work, bathe in the nearby river, and seek shelter in the school at night. Following numerous complaints, the women were instructed to relocate to the unused old building adjacent to the current premises.