Why Telangana’s ‘Mana Ooru-Mana Badi programme’ is a huge let down

There are 12 kinds of infrastructural facilities provided under the “Mana Ooru-Mana Badi’ which is a welcome measure. But the question remains, which schools get selected under the scheme?
Dysfunctional toilets found in Jorpur school in Nandipet mandal.
Dysfunctional toilets found in Jorpur school in Nandipet mandal.

The Telangana cabinet in January 2022 approved a programme called Mana Ooru-Mana Badi (MO-MB, Our village, our school), aimed at enhancing the quality of education and improving the basic infrastructure in government schools. The scheme was launched as the public funded schooling system in the state is floundering due to lack of infrastructure and shortage of teaching and support staff. The purpose of this article is to see the extent of inclusion of  village schools under the programme and how effective the implementation is.

Similar promises have been made by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government before but rarely have they attained fruition. The promise of establishing education hubs in every constituency is a case in point. Since the demand for free education from Kindergarten to Post-graduation (KG to PG) was strong during the Telangana statehood movement, the TRS government included this demand in its manifesto for 2014 elections. It got the votes of the people, won the elections and then gave up on it.

As a response to the demand for providing free education from KG to PG, the CM established an Education Hub in Gajwel, which is his constituency. The hub provides education from the 6th grade to PG in a single campus. The government has said that it has plans to build similar education hubs in other districts but this is yet to be implemented.

In November 2014, there was a month-long state-wide ‘Education March’ by All India Forum for Right to Education and Telangana Save Education Committee demanding free and quality education through the common school system. In response, the CM directed the Education Department to prepare a policy which would facilitate education for children of privileged citizens and the underprivileged in the same school. The CM seems to have completely forgotten his own directive.

Government schools hit by infra woes, teacher shortage

As per the statistics available, there are around 26,065 government schools in Telangana run by local bodies that cater to 19,84,000 students. The MO-MB scheme is aimed at providing basic infrastructure in order to improve attendance and retention of students in government schools. A decision has also been taken to introduce digital education gradually.

The flagship education scheme of the TRS is ambitious but blind to the fundamental problems in the sector. The fact is that even the residential schools, another pet project of the government, do not have regular teachers. In Telangana, several government schools are run by societies like the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREIS), Telangana Tribal Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TTWREIS), Mahatma Jyothiba Phule Telangana Backward Classes Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (MJPTBCWREIS), Telangana Residential Educational Institutions Society (TREIS) and Telangana Minority Residential Educational Institutions Society (TMREIS).

In 2022, there were 549 vacant posts in schools under TSWREIS, 630 vacant posts in TMREIS, 307 in MJPTBCWREIS and 313 in TTWREIS in the state.

As per a report presented in Parliament, there are around 19,126 teacher vacancies in the state. If we add vacancies in pre-primary education, the number goes up to more than 50,000. Pre-primary education is fundamental to achieve high learning levels in the later period. There are studies that show that almost 80% of brain growth occurs between three and six years of age.

It is atrocious that these schools do not have cleaning staff. They also do not have watchmen and as a result schools have been used for anti-social activities. Added to this, in the state of Telangana, out of 33 districts, 27 do not have District Education Officers (DEOs) and out of the 584 Mandals, 565 have no Mandal Education Officers (MEOs). Out of 276 lecturer posts in District Institute of Educational and Training (DIET) colleges, as many as 220 are vacant. The allocation to education from the state budget has sharply fallen from 11 percent in 2014 to six percent in 2022.

All of this indicates that making promises, appointing committees and then deceiving people had been the practice all these years. There are around 29,952 government-run schools in the state out of which 26,065 are under local bodies. According to a 2021 UNESCO report, 72% of rural schools are single-teacher schools. The sorry state of many such schools was revealed during the ‘Badi Nidra’ (night stay at schools) programme, an activity undertaken by a civil society organisation called the Social Democratic Forum (SDF) to understand infrastructure woes of schools. The SDF visited a total of 40 schools as part of the programme. When the forum visited a school in Jorepur village of Nandipeta Mandal of Nizamabad district, they found it did not have water connectivity. It also lacked a compound wall. Though toilets are there at a distance, they could not be used due to non-availability of water. This was a primary school offering classes from Grade I to Grade V but only had one teacher and one class room. A primary school having  five grades is expected to have at least five teachers and five classrooms.

The survey conducted by Telangana Save Education Committee also showed many schools lacked basic infrastructure. In a primary school located in Vanku Doth-Tanda, a tribal settlement, under the Thirumalayapalem mandal of Khammam district, there was only one teacher and one classroom for five grades. How can one teacher teach 12 different subjects in five different grades? Can one teacher teach with a systematic plan for five different grades and make students understand whatever is taught?

Since the teachers found it hard to handle the workload they applied for transfers and eventually the school was closed. As a result, in Thirumalayapalem, parents are sending their children to Kakarvai Private School, located in a nearby village by spending Rs.10,000 per child, per annum. In fact, five students dropped out in this village after the closure of the school. This is the situation in almost every village. There are 18,766 single-teacher schools in the state as per a UNESCO report. The majority of them are located in Dalit colonies and tribal settlements known as Chenchu Pentas, Gond Gudems and Lambadi Thandas. What has alarmed educationists in the Telangana is that these schools have been excluded from the ‘MO-MB’ scheme. Under this programme, there  is also no assurance of filling teacher vacancies.

There are 12 kinds of infrastructural facilities provided under this scheme like electricity, toilets with water facility, drinking water, furniture, green chalkboards and so on. This is a welcome measure. But the question remains, which schools get selected under the scheme?

Weakest schools ignored by MO-MB scheme

As per the government plan, the scheme will be implemented in three phases in three years. The first phase began in the 2021-2022 academic year. Only schools which have a high number of students have been selected. A total of 9,123 schools have been selected in the first phase of this programme. It means that schools located in Dalit colonies, tribal settlements and remote villages cannot be selected as student strength in schools here is low. The schools in cities and towns and suburbs, which have already witnessed development will be further developed. This could mean that around 18,766 single-teacher village schools will not be part of the MO-MB programme.

Another shocking fact emerged during a field study conducted by SDF. It revealed that the work under MO-MB has started only in 1,000 schools instead of the promised 9,123 schools and the money released was not even 10 percent of the promised amount. It was also revealed that whatever maintenance grants were given to schools during the COVID-19 period were taken back by the government and a part of that money was spent on the MO-MB programme. In the course of discussions with teachers and leaders of teachers’ unions they learned that the state government apparently collected around Rs 100 crore from school grants and out of it only Rs 66 crore was given back under the MO-MB program. Even if you take this amount into account it comes to only two percent of the promised fund.

Moreover, there were glaring irregularities in the tender process of various MO-MB works. Three companies – Kendriya Bhandar, Zenith Metaplast Pvt Ltd, and V3 Enterprises – filed a petition in Telangana High Court accusing the government of excluding them from bidding, despite meeting all criteria. Exposed, the state government was forced to admit to the irregularities and cancelled the tender notification. As a result, the implementation of the MO-MB programme remains a non-starter even after five months of its announcement. It's been three months now since the schools re-opened.

The task ahead is to mobilise the parents of government school children. Only a broad-based and protracted movement like the historic 400-day-long protest by farmers can make authoritarian and insensitive governments act. Intellectuals, educationists, and all who believe in democratic ideals need to be part of the noble struggle to protect government schools, which are the only hope for children of the most oppressed.

(Dr K Lakshmi Narayana is Professor at the School of Economics, Hyderabad Central University. Views expressed are his own.)

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