It’s a well-known fact that a country develops when its people develop. Development, in a broad sense, is the increase of the literacy rate in a country. Indians can be proud to recollect that one of our finest presidents, and one of the greatest minds of this era, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, came from a poor family. That is how a country grows: When you see small children walking long distances to school because there is no school near their home, you can be assured that the future of the country is in safe hands. But sadly, that isn’t the case everywhere. When the most basic and fundamental right—the right to education—was written into the Constitution, no measures were taken to ensure that no student would have to travel far to school. And so education, which should be seen as something essential, came to be looked at as something optional by the backward community, and that has been the case since India gained its independence in 1947.
One day recently, Amit Kumar, a twentysomething alumnus of Shri Krishna Vidhalaya middle and high school, stood outside his alma mater in Galimpur village in the Munger district of Bihar State in northern India with a proud look on his face, recalling the time when he was a student there.
“This school, which was built from logs and branches, has been transformed into concrete-cement buildings with separate middle school and high school buildings,” he said with a sparkle in his eye, almost as if he could see younger self walking through the school gates. The affection Kumar feels for Shri Krishna Vidhalaya was written all over his face. Alumni of similar schools in rural Bihar surely feel the same way.
Built of logs and branches
Shri Krishna Vidhalaya was constructed in 1941 in the small village of Galimpur, using wood collected from a nearby forest, as a middle school approved by the government under the British colonial regime. Students from about 20 nearby villages within a radius of 10 kilometers enrolled there. In this day and age, it seems unfathomable that schools almost as basic as Shri Krishna Vidhalaya was back then can still exist in a country that flaunts its status of one of the fastest-developing countries in the world.
The medium of education in Shri Krishna Vidhalaya was Hindi. The lumber was used to build a semi-pucca structure with the help of funds that were sanctioned to the school by the state government between 1950 and 1956. Four classrooms and an office were constructed, and the school was inaugurated by Dr. Srikrishna Singh, the first chief minister of Bihar. Within those rooms, as many as 600 students in classes 4 to 7 were taught following the Indian Council of Secondary Education syllabus. The school expanded further in 1969, and a high school was established in the same campus that had facilities to teach classes 8 to 11. About 260 students were enrolled in the high school at that time. When a good idea takes shape, it grows into something inspirational.
Always room for improvement
After full-fledged approval of the school was granted by the state government in 1971, education was provided free of cost to the students up to middle school, and this benefited poor families. The school collected monthly fees of Rs.2.5 (5 cents) for middle school students and Rs.12 (22 cents) for high school students. The faculty was initially paid by a local body committee, but the state government now pays the teachers’ salaries. On July 11, 1975, the Bihar government accorded full recognition for the streams of arts and science in the school. A small cabin has now grown into a place of hope, a place where dreams are encouraged and given shape. The middle school now has about 800 students and the high school 300.
The Bihar government provides books, uniforms and a midday meal to the middle school students.
“My family benefits with the midday meal scheme in the school. The quality of the food served is good these days,” said a cheerful Gudiya Devi, mother of Shivani Kumari, who one day hopes to become a doctor and help people.
The government also pays Rs.2,500 ($46) per high school student (both boys and girls) for a bicycle and Rs.1,000 ($18) annually to the girl students of the high school to attract more children to come to school. The high school students purchase the required books and notebooks by themselves, and, like any other student in an urban area, hope to become a respected member of society. The school is also provided with a library which holds books on history, Hindi, economics and political science, although the post of librarian is still vacant. To provide computer education from class 9 onward, the school recently procured 14 computers, though the post of computer teacher is vacant.
No labs are available for the students of the science stream to carry out experiments in physics and chemistry, and only theoretical education is provided to the students of the science stream of high school. Manjit Kumar, a Shri Krishna Vidhalaya alumnus said, “The school lacks toilets, labs for experiments and teachers are few in number. There was also a short of classrooms, which has been resolved now.”
School students in the villages of Bihar have little exposure to practical knowledge and experiments when it comes to subjects like general science, which is of crucial importance to help the students understand concepts better.
“I am studying in Samastipur College now,” Kumar said. “We students get to do very few experiments in the college.”
The school administration is trying to obtain funds from the state government to set up laboratories, and also aims to appoint a librarian and a computer teacher as soon as possible.
Shri Krishna Vidhalaya gets grants for educational tours in which students are taken to visit places of interest. For minor maintenance and repair work, the school also gets a grant of Rs.75, 000 per year from the state government. The gradual betterment of the school’s facilities is reflected in its results, with the pass percentage of high school students between 60 percent and 70 percent. The best pass percentage of the high school students in the school has been over 90 percent. About 60 percent of successful students opt for colleges or information and technology institutes and vocational training in computers.
Scheme pays for education of disadvantaged children
The school lends a helping hand to all the children from backward castes by providing them with free primary education, food and board. In 2010, an ongoing scheme called Residential Bridge Course (RBC), sponsored by UNICEF, was implemented in the schools of Bihar. Under the scheme, children in the 11-14 age group are screened for admission to Shri Krishna Vidhalaya and other schools. The selected children are admitted in classes 1 to 5 and are provided with free hostel accommodation, meals, uniform and study materials. UNICEF provides Rs.50,000 ($920) per month to the school administration to run the scheme. There are 70 such hostels in Munger alone, out of which just three are for girls and the rest cater only to boys. Each hostel accommodates about 50 students, and the students are promoted to the 6th standard of the middle school, when they are 12, after the successful completion of their primary education. Shri Krishna Vidhalaya says that the results achieved by the students from the backward community are less important than the effort they make.
Shri Krishna Vidyalaya has been serving the village of Galimpur for the past 70 years with education and facilities that aid the sons and daughters of poor families and backward castes. It has been the inspiration for many dreams—many of which have turned into reality. Though there is room for further improvement in the school, its development and functioning so far underlines why our country has seen the development that it has for half a century. The efforts made by Shri Krishna Vidyalaya are commendable, and it’s a fact that children in India don’t face the problems in getting an education that their grandparents did. If our government continues to implement far-sighted projects like the RBC scheme, we will soon justify our status as one of the fastest-developing countries in the world.