Close to a month after the surprise visit of state Minister T Harish Rao to the Zilla Parishad Higher Secondary School in Kandi, Sangareddy, the Class 10 students who made headlines across news media platforms are still feeling awkward about their appearances on TV and internet.
“It was very humiliating. People mocked us for days together,” recalls Shivaraju. Shivaraju was one of the students who was quizzed by the minister. The incident also left parents worried, according to teachers. Lalitha Rani, physical science teacher, says, “One of the boys who couldn’t recite tables was extremely upset after being shamed. He didn’t eat. His mother was worried if he would take his life.”
On December 28, Finance Minister Harish Rao, who was visiting Sangareddy to inspect the TRS district office, stopped by the ZPHS school, which is on the main road leading to Hyderabad.
The minister came along with some local reporters; besides checking the quality of the food provided, he decided to evaluate the performance of the Class 10 students in the school. Among the 33 students, Rao randomly picked six students to answer his questions. The minister asked the students to recite tables and checked their proficiency in three languages – Hindi, Telugu and English – and disappointingly, most of them performed abysmally. A student who was asked her teacher's name in three languages on the blackboard says she was a nervous wreck around so many people and therefore could not write.
The reporters filmed the incident and it was sensationalised. Videos of the students struggling to write and give answers were shared across Telugu news media platforms; even print media published photos of the students. In their quest to telecast news competing with rivals, the media outlets didn’t bother to mask the faces of the children, considering the impact it would have on them.
“Who would have been responsible if any student took an extreme step?” Lalitha asks.
The incident brought disrepute to the school, teachers and the students studying there. “It was very humiliating as a teacher for me. We were all ashamed of it. I have just three more months to retire and this is not the legacy I wanted to leave,” says M Ramachandraiah, in-charge Head Master.
Ramachandraiah faults the media for the coverage. “It is the media that defamed us. They highlighted only the parts where some students couldn’t answer. The questions to which the students answered weren’t shown,” he laments. TNM too had carried a report.
Another teacher pipes in and says, “In a class of 33, all students wouldn’t have the same intellectual capacity, right?”
The teachers point out that their students join institutes like IIIT Basara. The school with 169 children has no dropouts and all teaching positions are filled.
The teachers say, “Our school is in the limelight because the minister accidentally came here. What if he went to some other school. A similar thing would have happened there too.”
Though the school says that the students performed dismally because they were nervous, Telangana does have to improve its education sector. According to NITI Ayog’s 2019 School Education Quality Index (SEQI) report, Telangana’s ranking dropped from 17 to 18. The state had a score of 34.7% in 2015-16. However, it increased to 39.0% in 2016-17.
The report also says that Telangana had the lowest percentage of academic positions filled at District Level Academic Training Institutions (DIETs) at 36.0 % in the country.
In the indicator of percentage of teachers provided with sanctioned number of days of training, Telangana had the lowest score in the country at 21.1%.
As per the annual status of education report 2018, in rural Telangana among class 8 students, 3.4% students couldn't read a letter, 9.6% students couldn’t read a word, 17.5% students couldn’t read Class 1 level text and 69.0% couldn’t read Class 2 level text. The report also said that 1.1% from class 8 didn’t recognise even numbers; 1.1% couldn’t recognise numbers from 1-9; 16.0 % couldn’t recognise numbers from 10-99; 33.4% didn’t know subtraction and 48.3% didn’t know division.