Hyderabad: The Telangana government has assured that it would implement multiple steps to improve the 26,065 state-run schools through the ‘Mana Ooru Mana Badi’ scheme over three years, from building basic infrastructure to providing digital classrooms, as well as starting instruction in English medium.
If the government’s ambitious project comes to fruition, it would not be a moment too soon. Several schools are in dire straits and gasping for help.
This reporter travelled to government, zilla and mandal parishad schools in the interiors, in tribal tracks and in towns surrounding headquarters of multiple districts. All over, schools were in need of basic facilities. Just ahead of their reopening after the summer vacation, these schools seem to have been left out of the government's programme.
Schools face the same problem — dilapidated classrooms, unkempt premises, unhygienic toilets, no provision for drinking water, missing compound walls as well as lack of staff to maintain hygiene.
Multiple schools have students of different classes taught by one or two common teachers. There is a lack of focus on providing study materials and having teaching aids. There are no libraries and there are no laboratories in many cases.
There is no emphasis on imparting social and extra-curricular activities, which are crucial for the overall development of a student. In any case, there are no facilities for the children to play. Schools lack sporting equipment.
Students are forced to make do with the few facilities available to them. While ministers and TRS MLAs heap praises on the functioning of government schools, repeatedly claiming that they have the best facilities, the reality seems to be different altogether as Deccan Chronicle found out.
Schools located close to the district headquarters and Zilla Parishad High Schools (ZPHS) in mandal quarters are better maintained, with facilities such as potable drinking water, clean surroundings, good decoration, artworks on walls and others.
Maintenance of schools is a different story altogether, with staff shortage affecting cleaning of toilets, upkeep of school premises and watering of plants, among others.
In 2022, the government had allocated Rs 16,043 crore to the education sector, up from Rs 15,608 crore last year. The budget has been divided, with Rs 13,727 given for school education and Rs 2,357 crore for higher education.
In order to uplift facilities in government schools, Rs 7,289.54 has been allotted to the Mana Ooru Mana Badi programme. In the first phase, Rs 3,497 crore is to be spent to develop 9,123, or 35 per cent, of state-run schools.
When students step into their classrooms in thousands of schools on Monday, however, they will find that there is a long way to go. This reporter tried to get in touch with the district education officers concerned and the constituency MLAs via phone calls and emails but none of them responded.
Aged woman offers her hut for school
Komaram Bheem Asifabad: The small hamlet of Jandaguda in Ullipitta village of Tiryani mandal is home to around 30 Adivasi families. These families were relocated by Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) in 2007 to Pangadi which is located in the deep forests, without roads and electricity, and a school.
For 10 years, the school was run from the hut of a cook, Jekam Pochubai. In 2018, hoping for a better life, they relocated to Jandaguda but did not get a school building, and continued to use Pochubai’s hut.
“We cannot afford to send our kids to private schools. For a long time, we did not have proper roads or electricity. There is no school. We are constantly fighting for a dignified life,” a resident said.
“We relocated to this area hoping for a better future for our kids. Through lots of efforts, we were able to get an anganwadi school with the help of social activists. However, this has not been inaugurated yet.”
Pochubai said, “I have offered my hut because I want to see the children of our village get an education. I cook meals for them. It would be really great if the government provides better facilities and a proper school here.”
The teacher, Ada Venkatesh was recently transferred to Jandaguda. "The situation is not favourable. When it rains, we cancel classes because water leaks through the roof. The previous teachers had urged officials to look into the issues that students face but there has been no action.
The upper primary school with 25 students has one teacher who teaches all subjects. This school lacks a water connection and has portable toilets, one of which is dysfunctional. A borewell is the only source of water.
The power meter was stolen from the school in Ullipitta in March. The teacher and attender discovered this theft when they visited the school on June 2.
“I filed a complaint with the officials as well as the village MPP, who said they will look into the matter. The school has a pending bill of Rs. 40,000, which has not been paid since 10-12 years,” said Subash Rathod, the school’s teacher and incharge HM.
Officials at the power office told they were not aware of who stole the meter.
Villagers highlighted the need for better transport, well trained staff, drinking water and others, stating that due to a lack of these, they are sometimes forced to send their kids to the headquarters, some 15km away, to an English medium school.
“If there are better facilities in our locality, life would be much easier for our kids who have to take a shared autorickshaw everyday for such a long distance to attend school," they said, adding that the teachers in Badi Bata programme were urged to ensure that school is converted into English medium. This, they said, would enable them to send their kids to schools, provided that the facilities get a facelift.
The school in Dorli faces similar issues, and the building is dilapidated.
Tiryani and Rebbana incharge mandal education officer (MEO) Venkateshwara Swamy admitted that most of these schools were not in good condition. “Senior officials have been intimated about these issues orally as well through the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE). We are yet to see any response since many years,” he said.
“I’m aware that many schools have payment arrears, particularly power dues. Many of these dues have piled up over the years. We cannot repay them at once since the funds received from the government are inadequate,” Swamy said.
When asked about Jandaguda school, he said the issue was to be taken care of by the Integrated Tribal Develpment Authority (ITDA). “We provide the UDISE report to the department as well as the state government. We have stated about this issue many times but nothing has changed,” he said.
He said that in Rebbena mandal, schools in Paikajiguda and Rajaram were also in a dilapidated condition since the last five years. “Two-three schools have collapsed and we are operating the schools out in villagers' homes. Every year, the government asks for the report on dilapidated schools. We mention this every time but since my time here no works have been sanctioned. Instead, the government tells us not to conduct classes in dilapidated buildings. We will be blamed in case of any mishap,” Swamy added.
Schools in Durgapur and Kannepalli villages of Tiriyani mandal in Komaram Bheem Asifabad district also face similar issues.
For three years, school being run from a hut
Komaram Bheem Asifabad: A primary school in Rallabanjara, a remote village in Dammapeta mandal, functions out of a hut. The dilapidated school building was pulled down three years ago. There are over 20 students in the school.
Dammapeta mandal education officer Lakshmi told Deccan Chronicle that construction works were underway. The hut set up as a temporary basis on the school's premises after physical classes began. She stated that funds had been issued from the mandal parishad. She said construction works were slated to be completed in three months.
Schools in Laxmidevipally mandal's Bhavoji Thanda school lack basic facilities. The boundary wall resembles one of a weather-beaten ancient structure. The MPPS in Kothuru faces waterlogging issues, creating an unhygienic, stinking atmosphere. At Mokallagumpu, the small GPS TW school building lies in neglect. No boundary walls, a poorly maintained toilet and walls covered with moss greet visitors.
Garbage is burnt in school compound
Siddipet: The Zilla Parishad High School at Mylaram in Warangal mandal of Siddipet district offers its 148 students poorly maintained toilets. The school lacks proper facilities to cook mid-day meals.
“There is no staff to clean the premises. The government has handed over the responsibility of cleaning and maintenance to the gram panchayat, works happen irregularly. The cost for this is sometimes borne by my colleagues and I. We pitch in to pay the cleaning staff occasionally,” said school headmaster Tamala Bhaskar.
These issues are being reported to the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) from time to time, he said. “The last bit of development this school witnessed was five years ago when the compound wall was fixed. As there are no gas cylinders, we're forced to use wood fire to cook food for our students. The funds issued by the government are not adequate to provide for all students," Bhaskar said.
The ZPHS in Raipole has dysfunctional toilets with broken doors and unhygienic hand wash areas. Many taps in the wash area are also broken. The MPPS in Kolgur of Gajwel mandal has no decent toilets for boys.
Garbage is burnt inside the premises of the school at Chandapur in Thoguta mandal. The ZPHS in the mandal has no decent toilets for girl students. There is no water connection to the school, due to which hand-pumped borewells are used to get water. Officials also fail to maintain the school premises.
At Tukkapur in the same mandal is an MPPS with broken toilets. The school is located next to a main road but has no compound wall, leaving the kids open to danger.
Even after MLA visit, no funds for school
Rajanna Sircilla: A ZPHS building in Vemulawada municipal Ward No 1 at Shatrajpally with 56 students is on the verge of collapse. The students are no strangers to poor toilets, broken benches or bad infrastructure. The classrooms have broken benches, adding to the discomfort of students. On the health and hygiene front, things are bleak as well as. It’s not just the students but the teachers who suffer as well, as there are four tables for a total of eight teachers.
A headmaster told on the condition of anonymity: “As we don’t have workers, we are unable to keep the school clean. We only have around 25 benches for students to sit on and for tables for teachers. There are other issues as well.”
He said that every year, the school reported these issues to the UDISE and took the issue to the notice of the local MLA and officials but no funds were not allocated. “The MLA visited our school and assured that he would ensure the school is selected in the second phase of Mana Ooru Mana Badi. Vemulawada municipal mandal Ellanthkunta and Musthabad incharge MEO Bhukya Bannaji, “We have always mentioned these issues to senior officials and also reported to the UDISE but no action was taken. We need at least around 50 new dual desk-benches and many other things.”
He said supervision of mandal schools was difficult, and it was not possible to take special care and resolve all the issues.
The Zilla Parishad High School (ZPHS) at Nerella in Thangallapalli mandal has small toilets with no roof, the ZPHS in Adavisrirampur of Peddapalli district is also hit by similar issues.
School in poor state, it’s now a cattle shed
Mancherial: Things are no better at the primary school in Ponnaram of Mandamarri mandal in Mancherial district. While this school too does not have facilites, it is used as a cattle shed.
The building has three rooms, but the 26 students are forced to study in one room as the conditions are pathetic in the other rooms.
This school is located a few metres away from the ZPHS.
Headmistress Sunitha said, “Even the room that's being used is constantly under repair. We rely on gram panchayat workers for cleaning but they're not regular. Many times, we pool money and pay these workers. The fund provided by the government is sufficient to pay electricity bills mostly. There is other expenditure for which we are short of funds.”
Sunitha said that in 2015, the school was approved a kitchen shed. Construction work stopped since the government did not clear the bills.
Incharge Mandal Education Officer Jadi Pochaiah said, “Every year in September, we file a UDISE report highlighting the issues but there is no action from the government.”
In the Zilla Parishad High School (ZPHS), teachers pool `3,000 and hire workers to clean the schools. “The fund which we get from the government is not enough to pay the electricity bills. It is not even sufficient to buy items for decorating the school for Republic Day and Independence Day.”
The Zilla Parishad High School (ZPHS) at Mandamarri for a change is well-maintained but the boys toilet doors are broken, and the conditions are themselves dirty.
Toilet so bad it’s abandoned
Jangaon: The primary school in Hanuman thanda of Zaffergadh mandal has 12 students in different classes, who share one classroom and are taught by a single teacher. Facilities are in poor shape; the toilets are abandoned as they lack doors and have no water connection.
Students and staff members relieve themselves outside the school's premises. There is no boundary wall enclosing the school.
Girls forced to use dirty toilets
Nizamabad: Classrooms at a school in Joorpur, Nandipet mandal, are on the verge of collapse. Here as well, toilets lack doors and water connection. Students, particularly girls, are forced to use unhygienic toilets. Adding to the woes, the school lacks power supply and drinking water....