Most of the students studying at the primary school in Gwalbasti, a Nepali village on the eastern side of the Mechi River, cannot even write their own names. Never mind the students who study up to Class Two in the village school, even fifth-grade students who study in a school across the Mechi don’t know Nepali letters.
“We have sent our children to the schools,” says Ramavatar Sah from Gwalbasti, “but they can’t even write their names!” Surprised that his son, studying in the fifth grade, could not write his own name, Sah visited Kalika Primary School – his son’s school. Sah says he had to return home, taking satisfaction in the fact that none of the other students could write either. Most parents in the village complained that they had been sending their children to school just to “maintain the façade of educating their children.”
The school, however, maintains that this situation came about because of the language problems faced by its students. “None of the students understand Nepali,” says Rajesh Rajbanshi, a teacher at Mechi Primary School in Gwalbasti. “At home they speak Rajbanshi or have another mother tongue. No matter what we do, we can’t get them to learn Nepali in school. This is the result.”
Students who can’t even write their own name or read the alphabet have been allowed to move up to higher classes due to the generous grading system adopted by the government. Unable to provide instruction in the mother language, and without proper oversight from education sector regulators, the school is one only in name.
According to government regulations, every community school must run classes for a minimum of 220 days in a year, and it must stay open from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon. These rules do not apply to the school across the Mechi. The school’s opening bell rings at eleven, and by two, the closing bell rings.
“The students come late and, even if they do come, they are unwilling to stay for the entire school day,” says Tej Chandra Thapa, a teacher at the empty school. “Unlike elsewhere, it is hard to enforce the rules here.” According to him, most students from the village only come to the classrooms because of the school’s insistence.
But the parents understand the problem differently. They say that this situation has been created because of a lack of skills among the teachers. “The teachers come only when they want to,” a parent says. “The school runs according to the whims of the teachers. How would the students study then?”
Gwalbasti, which had been deprived of the most basic services, only got a school in 1996. The school was meant for students from Sisodagi and Jhadubasti as well as Gwalbasti. For a long time, it was only a school on paper, but two years ago, the District Education Office assigned a temporary teacher to the school.
The villagers say that the school – the only institutional representation of the Nepali state in the area – is nothing more than a sham. “The school remains closed most of the time,” says Bal Bahadur Rajbanshi from Sisodagi. “They don’t get even an hour or two of decent education.” According to him, the students have all the necessary textbooks for the primary level. But students in the second grade can’t even spell their names.
According to the school’s statistics, it teaches up to the second grade and there are 40 students enrolled in the school. But, school officials reveal that there are never more than 15 students who show up. However, in the Indian village of Ramlalajot 30 meters to the north of this village, the Bengali school there is chock full of students. There are more than 10 Nepali students who go to study there. In a school of over 150 students, around half of them are children of Nepalis who have migrated across the border.
Lok Bahadur Dahal, from the resource center Kakarbhitta Shrot Kendra, blames resource constraints and the social situation for the state of the school across the Mechi. He says, “There are schools that operate under great difficulties, without even desks or benches. The situation is bleak.”
Sudhir Kumar Siwakoti, the Constituent Assembly member representing election area No.2, where the village is located, says educational development programs are necessary. “I am trying to initiate skill-based and educational programs,” he said. “But, I think running such programs is going to be challenging.”
Translated from the Nepali by Pranab Man Singh. The original article was first published in Nagarik News and can be read here.
The text remains as close to the original as possible. That being said, there are a number of loose ends in the article which were problematic during the process of translation. I have highlighted these below, partly as a comparative tool, and partly because I believe the original article itself could have been more informative and precise:
1. Ramavatar Sah seems to have taken an awful long time to realize his son is illiterate.
2. The writer blames the government’s grading system for the students moving up. This is surprising given that it must be the school that is grading and passing the students. The government’s examination board does not evaluate primary exam papers or results.
3. The ending is rather abrupt – the two quotes are there either to point out that these people know little of or don’t care for the village, or to highlight the challenges – it succeeds at neither.
4. The author offers no indication that mother language education would be an option or for that matter why a primary school would not be able to teach a language (even if it is new) to its students.