This is the second year I am working with Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) Schools and this journey of working with various stakeholders — headmasters/ headmistress (HM), teachers, parents, community members, resource persons, students — has been quite enterprising. My kind of work as a Gandhi Fellow in standardization and strengthening of school processes requires time and availability of all of these stakeholders in various proportions, a maximum of that being with the HMs and teachers. And thereby, i can’t stop to think of the never ending yet ever increasing documentation work the HMs and teachers have been burdened with.
With the teachers receiving a new circular almost every day, the time they are forced to invest in Mahiti work is like never before. It started with the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme which was started this academic year (2017–18) to directly transfer the amount incurred for buying uniform and stationary to the students’ bank accounts. Earlier, the students would receive all these directly from TMC appointed vendors at the start of the academic year. But to put a hold to corruption that existed at various levels, the process was altered such that a bank account is opened for the students, they buy the necessary commodities by themselves, present the bill in the school which would later be submitted to TMC and then the allocated amount would be transferred to their bank accounts after scrutiny. This created a ruckus for the teachers, parents and students, all. The teachers had to fill the application forms to create bank accounts for their students as the situation is such that the parents are themselves illiterate in eighty percent of the cases. Many a times they had to go to the banks even, to submit the forms.
Once the bank accounts were created, they had to submit the students’ data which included their name, their parent’s name, phone number, address, aadhaar number, bank name and account details in both soft copy and hard copy to TMC. All this meant the teachers being able to put in less than an hour into teaching their students each day. In the meanwhile, the students were to buy the uniform and stationary and submit the bill in school. And this became a strenuous situation for the parents. Most of the parents being daily wage labourers, weren’t in a position to buy the commodities. And where there were three or four students from the same house (which is a common scenario here), the situation was even worse. During my community visits, the parents would complain that they were sending their kids to the Municipal schools only because they don’t have enough money to admit them in other (private) schools. The teachers would also lament the same that it is an extra burden on the parents for the financially unsound situation they are in. And in very rare cases , consumed by the stress, some teachers would shout at students for not getting the uniform and stationary. This was revealed in one of my community visits, where the parent said that she has not been sending their kids to school for a few days since their teacher harasses them. Hence under whatever circumstances, the child is at the losing end.
After recurring mentions of grievance from the side of parents to the school first and then from school to TMC, arrangements were made such that vendors were appointed who would provide the commodities to the students first and once they receive money in their bank account, the vendors could be paid. Now this made the teachers having to make a new set of documents, along with original bills and their photostat copies and copies of their bank account, hard copies to be delivered signed and soft copies mailed. A teacher recently confessed to me that she hasn’t attended to her class since Diwali last year (October 19, 2017), absorbed by the documentation work. This is a process which started in June 2017 and with less than two months left for the academic year to end, the students still haven’t received their uniform and school stationary.
Apart from this documentation work, teachers are often employed in government programs such as Swachh Bharat or doing Booth Level Officer (BLO) survey. Initiatives with good intentions are often either diluted or generate adverse effects, when implemented without lack of planning and having an understanding of the ground reality. A programme to equip the school going students with basic reading, writing and mathematical skills — Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra — was introduced by the Maharashtra Government in 2015, but if the teacher has no time to invest in it, the question is how would the students progress. Teachers were send for three days to four days of training during the month of January. The teachers themselves stated that even though the training was good and there was lot to learn, of what good is it when they have no time even to go to the classes and practice what they learned. The enrollment rate in the TMC schools has been decreasing with each passing year and this year a few schools got merged as well. More and more parents are taking their children to private schools not because teachers in Municipal schools aren’t interested in teaching or doesn’t care enough for their children. But because they don’t have time enough to go to the classes and teach their children. And if the situation continues, it would only speed up the privatisation of education sector and deprive children of the free education they deserve.