The previous UDF government's promises to upgrade the school to the aided category, bringing more funds, have fizzled out.

A Kasargod school for young endosulfan victims but its dedicated teachers get poor reward
news Education Friday, July 15, 2016 - 18:15

12-year-old Vishnuraj sits atop a table in a corner of the school hall, well away from the other 40 or so students, one of his hands buried deep inside his red school bag.

It’s one of those days when he is in a ‘peculiar’ mood, and draws away from the world around him. “These children go through tremendous mood swings and are often unpredictable. Vishnu is otherwise an active kid, but on certain days, he withdraws into himself. But then it’s not long before he is back to his usual pranks. I’m sure he’s up to some mischief,” smiles Chandrika, one of the two teachers at the school.

The Mahatma Buds Special School at Pullur Periya Panchayat in Kasargod was started in 2011 for victims of endosulfan in the district, and is one of the seven run by various panchayats in the district. All the seven schools are allotted funds for infrastructure development by NABARD and are also recipients of educational grants.

The school functions out of a small community hall owned by the block panchayat, with funds mainly garnered from the panchayat. The students are taught Malayalam, English and Maths, along with vocational training in umbrella making. Games are integral to the syllabus. 

Starting off with five students, the school now has 115 students on its rolls. However, not more than 40 or 50 students attend school regularly. Almost all the students live within a radius of six kilometres from the school.

Success stories

The staff has had some heartening success with the students. Over a period of time, they have managed to teach the children to become self-reliant in many basic ways: “Initially, they did not know how to hold a pen, eat out of a plate or even cater to their basic needs like going to the toilet. It took us a long time to train them in these aspects, and now most of them do not need any help in getting these done.”

13-year-old Nandana, for instance, now points to her tummy whenever she feels the urge to go to the toilet. “Earlier, she used to indulge in violent behaviour, but now, look at her,” says Chandrika, the the happiness evident in her voice. Chandrika joined the school as a teacher two years ago.

When the students leave the hall to wash their hands after lunch, Nandana comes running back, shakes off her shoes and jumps onto a chair letting out a screech. “It’s the rain that excites her,” explains Geeta, a staff-member.

Disabled from birth, most students are mentally challenged, with many barely able to communicate. Some however, the teachers proudly point out, have learnt to pronounce a few words and manage basic speech.

In a number of other ways too, the school has consistently been performing better than its counterparts, with quite a few prizes being bagged by its wards in various events.

This is also the only school to have managed to get two of its students placed in gainful employment.

For the past three months, 24-year-old Shafeeq and 22-year-old Prashant have been working from eight to eleven in the morning as sweepers at a government hospital, located opposite the school. Shafeeq, who is both hearing and speech impaired, points to the hospital and nods happily.

Fund-starved and struggling

Despite their success with the children, the staff of the school now grapple with a host of worrisome issues. Of course, they do not let any of that show in front of the children, maintaining a cheerful demeanour for their benefit.

Deepa Peroor, the school’s principal, who’s paid a meagre monthly salary of Rs 7000, rues the fact that their salaries have not once been revised since the inception of the school. Often late by a couple of weeks, the salary for other staff-members is an even more dismal Rs 3500 per month.

Deepa claims that the panchayat refuses to revise their salaries, despite the State Education Department issuing guidelines regarding the same. “How are we supposed to survive on this?” she asks. This in itself, she feels, would deter most candidates from taking up a job in the school.

Chandrika recalls that when she first joined the school, the other staff members had not been paid their salaries for almost a year. “Thankfully, we don’t face any problem, when it comes to providing food to these children. The panchayat sees to that. We, however, end up spending from our own pockets to reach here. But then, no one minds… it’s for a humane purpose after all,” she remarks.

The previous UDF government had promised that the school would be upgraded to the aided category, thereby making more funds available to the school. However, such plans seem to have fizzled out along the way. 

And it’s not just a question of adequate pay for the staff. The small community hall that serves as the school leaks during the rains. Moreover, some physically-challenged students had to stop attending school, as the hall proved too small to accommodate all of them.

A new school, built keeping international standards in mind, has now come up just a few kilometres away.

Come August, these students will move to the new school building that reportedly boasts of proper classrooms and better infrastructure for physiotherapy sessions and comprehensive vocational training, as well as a staff-room for teachers.

But the downside is that the new school will only accommodate students below the age of 18 years. This would mean that nearly 15 students will have no choice but to stay at home. Both Shafeeq and Prashant will then be forced to return home after work, rather than spend the rest of the day with their schoolmates.  

“There is no clarity regarding the future of these affected students. Ideally, a school should cater to kids below 18 years of age, I admit. But then, this is supposed to be a special school. We have conveyed the news to their families, but we do hope the authorities will provide an alternative for them,” Deepa sighs.

She points out that although some students may have attained the biological age of 18 years, their mental age is not that of an adult. She is also worried that the move could have a detrimental psychological effect on the students, since they will be deprived of the comfort of the familiar environment of their current school.

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