In January earlier this year, parents in Saramedu in Coimbatore’s Karumbukkadai area had staged protests demanding that the local Corporation Primary School get better teachers and that the primary school be upgraded to a middle school. However, ten months on, other than appointing three teachers to the school, no action has been taken on the parents’ petitions submitted to the Corporation officials requesting an upgradation of the primary school to a middle school.
Karumbukkadai, an area with 50,000 families, is located adjacent to a popular hub of the city, Ukkadam. However, despite its location, the area lacks facilities like decent healthcare and bank branches and has only one Corporation school, which admits students only till Class 5.
The school, established in 1967, has a concrete building with decent classrooms and spaces allocated for cooking mid-day meals. The school had around 330 students in 1998 but the number of students has fallen drastically over the years. Currently, it has 98 students and three teachers.
“They (Corporation) should at least respond (to our petitions) first. Only then will we know what is to be done to get that upgradation. As of now, there has been no response at all on any of the petitions,” says Sameena, a 32-year-old homemaker and a mother of two children.
“Two teachers were employed to teach classes 1 to 5. Then one teacher was transferred out and we were stuck with just one teacher for all the classes. They put all the students in a single classroom and taught them. But a class 5 student who has received education in this manner cannot go and seek admission for Class 6 elsewhere, right? He needs to know whatever a Class 5 child has to know. This is where the children got affected,” says Saleena Bari, an instructor in an Arabic college in the locality.
On January 19, 2018, around 20 people protested in front of the school demanding that more teachers be employed by the school. The protests worked and the Corporation Commissioner came to the school and appointed two more teachers immediately.
One of the protesting parents talks to the media on January 19, 2018
However, the school is not maintained well, 36-year-old Shahitha tells TNM.
“In such a situation, even if this school is upgraded, we will need better infrastructure to accommodate an increasing number of students. Initially, the school had many students, but they dropped out due to hygiene issues. For example, this school has only one cook and the food for the children is not made in the kitchen but on the steps of the school. This puts little children at a risk of falling down and injuring themselves,” she adds.
Why is there a pressing need for a middle school in this area?
Affordability and the general conservative nature of the people who live here seem to warrant the demand for a Corporation middle school in the locality.
Madheena, a mother of two children, says that girls studying till Class 10 itself is a big deal.
“Even if we send our children to attend Class 10 somewhere else in a private school by paying high fees, most parents here cannot afford to continue sending their children to Class 11 and 12 in those schools because the fees are high. The next best option is the one in Oppanakkara street, where the fee is low. But the seats there are limited and the school gives priority to students who studied Class 10 there. So it puts us in a state of helplessness,” she says.
Marrying their daughters off at the earliest is mostly a safety route for parents in the area to avoid sending them in crowded buses to schools that are far away. Till Class 10, they arrange money to fund their studies in private schools nearby, but educating their children beyond that is a dream for many parents here.
There are three private schools nearby with around 5,000 students. Residents of Karumbukkadai express confidence that if the existing Corporation school is upgraded and necessary improvements are made to the existing infrastructure and hygiene, more parents will send their children to the Corporation school.
“People want to send their daughters to middle school but such infrastructural hindrances force them to reconsider. Boys in our community are sent to other schools but girls here have still not completely come out of their shell here. There have been many cases where parents have stopped educating their daughters beyond a point since they don’t want to send them far away for school,” says Shahitha.
However, it seems the norms for submitting a request of the upgradation of the school still depend on the number of the students admitted to the school, which makes the upgradation of Saramedu Corporation Primary school an uphill task.
Coimbatore Chief Education Officer Ayyannan spoke to TNM and stated that if a request is given for upgradation, the committee will consider it but the Coimbatore Corporation Education Officer told TNM that there are certain procedures to be followed while applying for an upgradation.
“Every year in May, we send a list of schools from our area to be considered for an upgradation. This year we sent the names of five schools and only one school was upgraded,” the Corporation Education Officer said.
He added that the existing strength in the school must be at least 250 students and a deposit fund must be paid to the state government before an application for upgradation is sent.
When asked about what the Corporation was doing to fix infrastructure and hygiene of the primary school to reduce drop-outs, the Coimbatore Corporation Education Officer refused to comment. Further queries from this reporter about the past petitions submitted to the Corporation were not answered by him.