Failed Education Priorities of the Bihar Government

Failed Education Priorities of the Bihar Government

  • Education
  • by Ranjana Das and Pratiush Prakash
  • 31 Dec, 2018

The green fields on both sides of the Bihar highway leading to Morwa village promise a bounty of vegetables- from cabbage, radish to stacks of paddy that have been recently harvested. As we enter the Majhi Tola of Morwa village of Samastipur district, the scenery changes dramatically from green fields to dilapidated houses constructed under Indira Awas Yojna. The village is home to one of most marginalised communities in India. One that has been fighting decades of discrimination which has resulted in generations being denied access to education and health facilities.

Kept at the periphery: Invisible Musahars
Musahar community members from the village work as daily labourers for Rs 100 a day at the lush green farm lands. These families are settled in the lands of the landholders and work as subsidised labour. The Musahar community is a Hindu scheduled caste which now falls under the term 'Mahadalit community' or the most marginalised of the lot. They are traditionally rat catchers and are mainly landless- working in the agricultural field of landlords and performing other menial work. In the rural areas, Musahar are primarily bonded agricultural labourers, but often go without work for as much as eight months in a year. Children work alongside their parents in the fields or as rag pickers. Literacy among the community is abysmally low, averaging around 10%. Literacy among women of the community is around 1-2%. Almost 85% of the population suffers from malnutrition with limited access to health care facilities. 

Dismal literacy rate
Bihar has nearly 2.2 million ‘Musahars’, according to the state Mahadalit Commission’s interim report. Community activists however claim the population of Musahars is not less than 3 million in the state. About 96.3% of them are landless and 92.5% work as farm labor. Literacy rates among this community, which upper caste Hindus still consider untouchable, is only 9.8%, the lowest among Dalits in the country.

Out of 110 Musahar families in Majhi tola, 50 families have started sending their children to a nearby government school in the last few months due to support provided by a local NGO (Oxfam partner), Dalit Vikas Abhiyan Samiti (DVAS). However, discrimination has not ended. Families say their children have been put up in separate classrooms and the teachers hardly hold any classes. The teachers bare their biases when they earnestly explain that the children from the community are “dirty”, they “pollute the environment of the school” and the upper caste ‘Bhumihar’ families do not want the ‘Musahar’ children to attend the school. 

Local NGOs are working to change these attitudes among students, parents and teachers in schools but the process is slow and they face opposition from the upper caste community. The local NGO DVAS had a series of meetings in the last five months and pushed the school administration to let the children from the community eat their mid-day meals with other students. The ‘Musahar’ families consider this as an important achievement and call it a “big change” they have witnessed in years. 

Determined for an education
Despite their low incomes, some families are determined to educate their children in private centres. One woman from the community says she finds it more convenient to send her children to a local private tuition centre than a government school. She has enrolled her daughter in Kasturba Gandhi School, a residential school, set up by the government for children from SC, ST, OBC and minority communities. Her two boys (in IInd and IVth grade) go the government school but also attend private tuitions which costs Rs 200 per month per child. The tuition centre teaches them the curriculum that they must be taught in school. However, she fears that tuitions might not help them qualify for the next class as teachers believe children from their community must not be educated. 

Mausam's story 
While some children are fighting prejudicial treatment in schools, others like Mausam Kumari (11 years old) are trapped in the cycle of poverty and burdened with responsibility to earn for their families. Mausam was pulled out of school to support her family and work with her mother as a daily wager labourer in the fields. Their income provides for their family of four which includes her ailing grandmother and father. The local NGO DVAS has promised to help the family and ensure that Mausam is re-enrolled to school in the next session.

Bihar is home to 4.75 crore children (age group 0-17 years). As per U DISE (Unified District Information System for Education) 2015-16 the overall literacy in age group 7+ is 71.2% whereas it is only 48.17% for SC children.

As reported by Bihar Economic Survey, 2015-16, 5 % of children in Bihar, aged 6-14 years are estimated to be out-of-school. Out of these, 55% are never were enrolled and 25 % dropped out of school. Barely 85 % made it to upper-primary level in 2014-15; which is third lowest proportion after Nagaland and Uttar Pradesh. Furthermore, no more than 38% student enrolled in class first complete their secondary education in Bihar.


A look into the data, the child population of Bihar in the age group of 0-17 years is about 4.75 crores, (46% of Bihar’s total population). Girl’s population accounts for 47.5% of the total child population. The percentage of Schedule Caste (SC) children is around 17% whereas 1.3% children belong to Scheduled Tribes (ST). The rate of literacy among children below 18 years of age is 79.54%, with girls registering a marginally lower literacy rate of 76.95%. The district of Samastipur ranks fourth among the districts of the state in terms of SC population with 36% population (approx.). As per DISE 2015-16 the overall literacy in age group 7+ is 71.2% whereas it is only 48.17% for SC children.

In terms of government expenditure, Bihar spends about 3.7 % of the GSDP on elementary education. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in a performance audit report tabled in Parliament in 2017 showed that Bihar which has lagged in education outcomes for years, had not been able to utilize over Rs. 26,500 crore of the RTE corpus between 2010-11 and 2015-16. 
These underspends can be seen on the ground. For the last two years, government is transferring the money for textbooks for a middle school of Samastipur district in parents’ accounts. However, the textbooks are not available in the market and the Bihar State Textbook Publishing Corporation Limited (BSTPCL) is not printing books as they were charged with corruption. As per GoB guidelines, a book bank needs to be established at schools level where books to be collected from passing out students and create a repository of the same which then can be lent out to students for studying.

One of the teachers in the nearby government middle school at Samastipur district revealed that they have received no text books for children for the last 2 years. Instead, money to buy textbooks is transferred to the account of parents which makes no sense as text books are not available in the market. The state government is supposed to provide free books to students from classes I to VIII. Earlier the books used to reach students in October-November because of a very tardy rate of publication by the Bihar State Text Book Corporation (BSTBC), making the entire expenditure and exercise meaningless as the session starts in April. For the last two years, BSTBC is not printing books as they have been charged with corruption by the government.
 
With the elections round the corner, political parties are now gearing up with their manifestos. There is an urgent need to prioritise and bring back the focus on primary and elementary education in Bihar by all the political parties especially the present government of Bihar. Children who belong to Dalit and Mahadalit community primarily study in Government schools. That children do not make a vote bank doesn’t mean that they attend schools without text books and remain unattended by teachers. The pupil teacher ratio is 36 in the state as against 23 in India (according to census 2011 Unified District Information System for Education). The dismal spending on public education system which is primarily responsible for better education outcomes among the marginalised community, is resulting in more ‘Mausam Kumaris’ attending schools without teachers and text books. If there is a single appeal to the current state government, it should be to make primary education a reality for all children studying in Government schools, especially from Dalit and Mahadalit community, with distribution of free textbooks, special training for out of school children like ‘Mausam Kumaris’ and of course with improved quality of education. 
The primary education system in Bihar is ailing despite the Right to Education Act as a constitutional guarantee. The dropout rates are very high amongst Mahadalits and Dalits and has marred the future of these children who prefer working in local agriculture fields and brick kilns.
Are we giving them ample opportunity to brighten their future with quality education system? The time to act is now….


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