There were times when a guru used to teach in schools without any book. Then came those days when books became an integral part of teaching and learning. Both guru and books were now teachers. Today, the schools are running without any guru and/or books.
On one hand, while we are introducing numerous policies in education on open book examinations, teaching without textbooks and grading; on the other hand, an extreme reality still exists in certain places, one of which is Munger, Bihar where neither a teacher is present nor any books have reached. There are school buildings, pink in color, standing shut, with lotus flowers growing around and no place to step inside.
While surveying community tutors a month back, I came across the damage done due to unavailability of books among children. Students in grade 1 are going for tuition where they’re being taught the English alphabets in first year, word making in the second year and then revision of both in the next three years. The situation is same for other subjects as well where a half year’s course is being stretched for five years.
Immersing deeper into this context, I got to know that the parents expect quality education for their children, which makes them send their kids for private tuition as according to them, no teachers are teaching in the school. Further, these kids don’t have any books, a fact that diminishes the check on what is being taught to them in tuition classes. To an extent, these are a couple of reasons why such tuition centers have become sustainable over time.
When I went to check the knowledge base of tutors, it horrified me that a few of them were not able to read a second grade English textbook and make sense of it. There were tutors who couldn’t correctly spell the name of their students.
As a part of my work at iSaksham, while doing a research to form a new batch of community tutors in order to later make them the local education leaders via adequate training, I was introduced to the diverse world of tutorship. Prabha, an 18 year old community tutor teaches 5 kids of different age groups. A look at their notebooks tells that all of them are solving the same addition problem: 2+3=? 4+2= ? When I asked Prabha as to which source she is referring to teach, she abruptly said, “Hum khud se padhaate hain” (I teach myself). On inquiring about the absence of books, she said “School mein books nahi dete hain ab” (Books are not provided by schools now).
A longer conversation with her suggested that books were earlier provided by schools but now government gives a budget for books to each child’s parents. The depressing part here is, that hardly any parent buys books with the given money. They rather spend it all to fulfill their other needs.
Further, I got to know that Prabha herself has never studied from textbooks until she was 11, in 6th grade. On the way back home, a storm of thoughts disturbed me:
- Private tuition are needed when there are no teachers in schools
- How will Prabha teach, if not by herself, when there are no books?
- How will she know who to teach what if there is no syllabus?
- What will make her realize that she is not doing justice to the kids when she herself was taught like this?
- Is she just trying to make some money by fooling these children and their uneducated parents?
- What is wrong with teaching basics to children over not teaching them at all?
- Where do the books go?
The last question took me back to last month when I was travelling back home, and a man selling snacks boarded the same train. In his hands, were rice ball like things with a sugar coating, covered with a piece of paper that had questions on it, like 456+652=?. Those were the pages of a mathematics textbook.
The pages that should be in the hands of children who are not getting any books to read in their entire childhood, were being used to wrap food items and would later be thrown away. It was hard to digest that we are a part of such nation where these heartbreaking ironies exist and we choose to enjoy the sugar coating as it seems appealing.
In these pockets of the country where books haven’t reached yet, will the educational policies ever reach? Even if it does, who will take the responsibility to implement them? Who will be monitoring them? I can see hope for things to get better when all these questions will have an answer. But, what until then? Can we find a way to bring books to children and tutors, so that they discuss something other than weather or breakfast? Will these children ever know what having a book feels like?