Jean Dreze: Only 20% Student Attendance in Govt Primary, Upper Primary Schools in Bihar

“The teachers are not there, the quality of education is poor, infrastructure is dismal, the midday meal is of poor quality, and the DBT for textbooks and uniforms is a failure,” he said, while releasing a survey report.

New Delhi: Economist Jean Dreze said on Friday, August 4 that only 20% of students were attending classes at government primary and upper primary schools in Bihar, the Telegraph reported.

“The teachers are not there, the quality of education is poor, infrastructure is dismal, the midday meal is of poor quality, and the direct benefit transfer for textbooks and uniforms is a failure,” he said.

He said this while releasing a survey report, “Where are the kids? The curious case of government schools in Bihar”, conducted by the Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS).

Dreze, along with JJSS secretary Ashish Ranjan, guided the survey, the newspaper reported.

Earlier this year, an assessment was carried out in Bihar’s Araria and Katihar districts to evaluate the condition of the schooling system, after the COVID-19 crisis. The study encompassed 81 randomly selected primary and upper-primary schools in the region.

“Only around 20% of the enrolled students were present in the schools on the day the survey was conducted. This is perhaps the lowest in the world. It is a very big crisis. This is not just limited to Araria and Katihar, but is true for the entire Bihar,” Dreze told the Telegraph.

“Some of the possible reasons could be — no teaching happening in the schools, the closure of schools for two years because of Covid-19 could have destroyed the school-going habit of the children, private tuitions, fake enrolment of students, and the strange and inappropriate system of direct benefit transfer (DBT) for books and school uniform that leaves the poor with a cruel choice between basic needs and education,” Dreze added.

According to the survey, approximately two-thirds of the primary schools (classes I to V) and nearly all upper primary schools (classes VI to VIII) in the region had a pupil-teacher ratio exceeding the maximum permissible limit of 30, as stipulated by the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

Furthermore, the survey revealed that teachers frequently exaggerated student attendance figures.

It was observed that around 90% of the schools lacked proper boundary walls, playgrounds, and libraries. Shockingly, approximately 9% of the schools sampled did not even have a proper building.

In addition, the survey found that the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system for providing textbooks and uniforms was a failure. Many students in the schools lacked essential materials because they either did not receive the allocated funds from the government or the funds were used for other purposes.

Educationist D.M. Diwakar argued against the DBT system, suggesting that textbooks should be directly distributed to students instead of providing monetary assistance.

He pointed out that the state government had given textbook printing and supply contracts to individuals affiliated with political parties. “If the government cannot supply, how can small players supply textbooks?…,” Diwakar told the daily.

According to the survey, government schools seem to be in danger of mass displacement by private coaching centres.