Published: 28th July 2020
All children at this Erode tribal school passed +2, but the reality is that they're struggling without teachers
For almost a decade the school hasn’t had a Biology and History teacher for higher secondary, they haven’t had a headmaster for the last three years either
It’s another end to the annual season of board exam results, and among the stories of the first rankers and the school centum result reports, one can always find stories of students who overcame various hardships to pass in their exams. As a society we like to hear stories of struggle — of students who didn’t have electricity, who had to swim, walk miles to get to school, who didn’t have toilets, proper classrooms, didn’t have teachers and yet, despite all this, they had emerged successful. And while these children deserve all the appreciation they get and maybe even more, we cannot forget that these students should not even have had to face their hurdles in the first place. It also mirrors society’s serious obsession with turning stories of inequality and deprivation into happy conversations about success.
The teachers at this tribal school in Sathyamangalam are certainly happy for the 100 percent pass percentage they’ve received this year but they don’t want the story to end with the success of their students. For almost a decade, the school hasn’t had a Biology and History teacher for their higher secondary students. They haven’t had a headmaster for the last three years either. The school situated on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border is majorly attended by children from the Soliga tribe and the OBC Lingayat community. One of the teachers, who wished to remain anonymous, says the teachers are frustrated as they are overworked but feel even worse that the students don’t get the quality of education that they deserve.
The school was established in 1996 and was upgraded to a high school in 2010 and finally, to a higher secondary school in 2012. “When we last upgraded, we had two groups (Commerce and Science streams) but had only five teachers posted. When we started we had a small number of students too, so it was okay. But now as each year passes, the student strength increases but the number of teaching posts remain the same. How is that fair to the students or to us?” he asks. Currently, there are 290 students in higher secondary, “A school this big has been running for three years without a headmaster, imagine that? The entire burden falls on us teachers, so instead of focussing on academics, we have to divert our attention to other administrative duties. And there’s a risk with that, how can we do so many things.”
In recent reports that focussed on a student from the school, the science stream student who managed a score of 366 in her exam, she said that it was her sister, an engineering graduate, who would teach her after she finished work. What she learnt, the student would teach her other classmates too. “The students don’t deserve to suffer like this because the school doesn’t have a teacher,” the teacher adds.
When the teachers approach the authorities to appoint these teachers, they are told that there are no ‘vacancies that need to be filled’. “The government has to sanction a post and only then can the authorities in charge make efforts to fill it up. Now, since the post itself hasn’t been sanctioned, the authorities just simply dismiss us saying there are no posts to fill,” the teacher tells us. Right now, the school doesn’t have a Physics or Commerce teacher either since they’ve been transferred, “But since those posts are already sanctioned, we’ll get new staff for the new year.”
So, why are these posts not getting sanctioned? “This is the problem with all tribal schools, in Erode district and outside it too. Tribal schools don’t come under the School Education Department, it comes under the tribal welfare department. A school just 15 kilometres away from ours, recently upgraded to a higher secondary school and immediately got five teachers. If the school is under the education department, the posts immediately get sanctioned, if there are excess teachers, they are deployed in other places, new people are deputed, all this is done. Because ours comes under the Tribal Welfare Department, the authorities are not taking enough steps to do the same for our schools,” he explained.
This red tape is hitting them badly. “When a school is turned into a higher secondary school, according to the Government Order nine teachers need to be posted. But that's only if it's under the Schol Education Department, now since this school is under the Tribal Welfare Department, they’re only giving us five posts,” he tells us.
The authorities don’t understand that as the teacher-student ratio grows, more teachers need to be appointed, he adds. “Now for classes between sixth and tenth standards, there are 227 students. Now for every 30 children, there has to be one teacher. If you consider that, we have to have eight teachers. When we started, we had 100 students and four teachers were appointed and that was enough. Now we have to have eight teachers but have only four. These students haven’t had a social science teacher for the last ten years, ever since we started!” he added. Every time the teachers approach the authorities they receive the same response, ‘If posts are vacant, then we will fill.'
There are some teachers from other districts who visit the school once a week and take a few hours of class, "But these are my own friends from other schools, I request them to come and take a few classes. It is an arrangement we ourselvea have made."
The teacher says the case is the same in schools in Asanoor, Thalamalai and Kongadai, “Just two years ago, a tribal school close by was upgraded to a high school and there isn’t a single teacher there for 9th and 10th standard students, not a single one. Forty children study there. Now because of Corona, they managed to pass but otherwise, what would have happened? How would they have managed?”
Another teacher we spoke to, who is currently the Principal-in-Charge at a tribal school in the same district, said they don’t have an English and Social Science teacher, “Teachers have to manage two, three subjects on their own, the class work also increases and the students also suffer.” But the teacher says that the problem doesn’t just stop at teacher posting, “We also need people to handle administration and we need a watchman. There aren’t just teachers and students in a school, there are various other people who are needed to run a school. For this also we need the government to sanction postings,” he explained.
There are many tribal middle schools and elementary schools which have it even worse, “But some of them are single teacher schools, so many don’t have headmasters. The government has to ask the department to appoint people but for that the department has to approach the government and tell them that they need to sanction posts because teachers are desperately needed. But neither is taking any steps to help us.”