Despite a multitude of schemes, quality concerns batter school education in rural Andhra Pradesh

Despite a multitude of schemes, quality concerns batter school education in rural Andhra Pradesh

Despite a multitude of schemes, quality concerns batter school education in rural Andhra Pradesh

Academic standards remain unsatisfactory as non-appointment of teachers and strict deadlines in achieving desired learning outcomes pour cold water on the significant efforts made by teachers  

Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh:In our village, there is a huge demand for labourers during sowing and reaping seasons. If all four in my family work in the fields, we can earn Rs 2,500 a day. So it is  natural that parents intentionally prevent their children from attending school.” The preference given to work over education in rural Andhra Pradesh is clear from the words of this parent, whose sons study in classes 10 and 8.

Agriculture is the mainstay at Devagiri in Bommanahal block of Anantapur district. However, those from lower castes find it difficult to get farmhands to work in their lands due to the age-old caste system. Consequently, they employ children from their own caste from nearby villages, which negatively impacts their education.

A noticeable decline in student attendance is common during sowing and harvesting seasons. Despite the requirement of mandatory 75% attendance to obtain benefits under various educational schemes that the Andhra Pradesh government runs, this trend has remained irreversible.

Rural teachers admitted that academic performances have remained below par, with socio-economic factors such as poverty, lack of quality education, early marriage, family responsibilities and a lack of support systems affecting students. Parents, on their part, face financial constraints and migration, which impact education of their children. 

Teachers see a ray of hope in the Gross Enrolment Ratio because it has successfully brought down the dropout rate to zero. At present, the government’s focus is on rural education infrastructure, policies to address access and quality, and support for marginalised communities, but how far have the benefits penetrated?

A teacher teaching students of class 10, ZP Highschool, Devagiri (Photo - Paul Babu, 101Reporters)

Numbers paint a good picture

“For the last four years, the government has been making an annual pay of Rs 13,000 towards one of my daughters under Ammavodi scheme. I utilise it for the educational needs of my three daughters,” said Bandaru Simon (45) from Jammalamadugu in Kadapa district. 

Ammavodi applies to poor and needy mothers of children studying from classes one to intermediate level. So far, Rs 26,067.28 crore has been spent under the scheme to benefit 83,15,341 students by directly transferring the amount to the accounts of 42,61,965 mothers.

H Anjineyya (42), Boya Raja (40), H Ramanjini (45), H Parashuram (45) and Vadde Uliganna (52) from Devagiri informed that their children also reap benefits from Ammavodi, Jagananna Vidya Kanuka and Jagananna Gorumudda. “We have not faced any problem as far as these schemes are concerned,” they said in unison.

Jagananna Vidya Kanuka provides a kit comprising bilingual textbooks, notebooks, workbooks, three pairs of readymade uniform with Rs 200 to alter them, one pair of shoes, two pairs of socks, a belt, a school bag, Oxford English-Telugu Dictionary and pictorial dictionary. So far, the government has spent Rs 3,366 crore for 47,40,421 students under the scheme.

With a daily menu change, Jagananna Gorumudda provides quality, tasty and hot cooked meals in schools. The government has spent Rs 3,590 crore for 43,26,782 students so far.

“All 344 students in my school are beneficiaries of Ammavodi, Vidya Kanuka and Gorumudda schemes. Besides, the government has started distributing advanced tablets to class 8 students and interactive flat panels [IFPs] for all classes from last year, as part of the New National Education PolicyNo doubt, these schemes have significantly reduced dropout rates... Only children of families that have migrated miss out on this opportunity,” Gujjala Nagesh, headmaster, Upper Primary School, Singanahalli, Bommanahal block, told 101Reporters.

According to Eerabagatappa Kamalamma, Special Officer, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), Bommanahal, all 250 girls in the school are recipients of government schemes. “Jagananna Vasathi Deevena is also applicable to us as KGBV provides intermediate education with residential facilities... Our pass percentage is always between 80 and 90%.”  

Besides covering educational expenses, Jagananna Vasathi Deevena takes care of the boarding and lodging facilities of learners. Jagananna Vidya Deevena promises higher education to students from poor financial backgrounds by reimbursing the total fee on a quarterly basis to the joint accounts of mothers and their children pursuing courses in industrial training institutes (ITIs), polytechnics, degree, engineering, medicine etc. There is no limit on the number of eligible children in a family.

To encourage digital mode of education, the government has so far provided 9,52,925 tablets at a cost of Rs 1,306 crore to students of class 8 and to their teachers. Tablets worth Rs 17,500 each, 62,000 IFPs, 45,000 smart TVs with digital infrastructure and internet have been provided.

The schemes do not end here. Mana Badi Nadu-Nedu ensures a total revamp of 45,975 schools with an expenditure of Rs 17,805 crore in three phases. As many as 38,059 schools have been renovated so far by spending Rs 11,669 crore. According to the Nadu-Nedu website, the scheme will cover a total of 44,512 schools, including management-run residential schools. Modernisation with nine infrastructure components such as  toilets with running water, drinking water supply, major and minor repairs, electrification with fans and tube lights, furniture for students and staff, green chalk boards, painting of schools, English labs and compound walls is envisaged.

Under the Swechha scheme, the government has spent Rs 32 crore to provide sanitary napkins to 10,01,860 girls. 

Going a step higher, Jagananna Videshi Vidya Deevena enables poor students to pursue quality overseas education by reimbursing fee up to Rs 1.25 crore to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Backward Classes and minority students and up to Rs 1 crore to other students, inclusive of airfare and visa charges.  

In a recent interview to India Today, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy claimed that no previous government has implemented as many schemes for students because they are not voters. In 55 months since coming to power, his government has spent Rs 73,417 crore for educational reforms.

Students of class 8 with their tablets (Photo - Paul Babu, 101Reporters)

Turning doles into assets

The government has gone all out to revive the education sector, but has the money spent been turned into assets for future/present education? Surely, the assistance has helped keep children at school by making up for the money they would have got for the family through occasional daily labour. Beyond addressing this basic issue, have the benefits trickled in to ensure a change in attitude?

When 101Reporters quizzed 45 students studying in different classes and from different villages to learn how the assistance was utilised, all of them said the money was spent on family needs.

According to information gathered by 101Reporters from 25 senior teachers in Anantapur district, schemes have increased student enrolment, but achieving desired learning outcomes with the existing staff remains a major challenge. The government expects fast results by putting pressure on teachers and students by assigning weekly and monthly deadlines, but teachers said only two or three students in a class performed above average. Furthermore, the initial two years of the current government's tenure were heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Teachers face challenges due to the limited time to implement reforms, inadequate training and a lack of motivation. They have 40 tasks to complete on working days, and some of them struggle due to limited online skills. Poor network coverage and server down issues also take up their time.

In accordance with the government order number 117, classes 3, 4, and 5 of primary schools have been merged with upper primary schools. Subjects, including Test of English as a Foreign Language, are taught from class 3. The adoption of a uniform syllabus is underway, with all subjects presented in a bilingual format. The teachers will undergo a learning improvement programme to fully grasp the concepts before imparting lessons to children.

However, the primary education reforms have not gone down well with the Andhra Pradesh Teachers' Federation, which organised a 100-day movement to oppose the merger reform in 2022, arguing that it diminished educational standards and denied quality education to the poor.

Shortage of teachers

Rural high schools face shortage of non-teaching and teaching staff. The government introduced new schemes with a student-centric approach. However, school education can be strengthened when it implements appropriate measures from the perspective of teachers as well. 

“Even when they cannot afford private school education, parents are preferring it because government schools have teacher shortages. Ammavodi covered all students in a family earlier, but it is now limited to one child. Some parents still send their children to school for free lunch,” said Samuelraj, a proponent of Dr B R Ambedkar's ideology. 

“The government closed around 10,000 primary schools, making children aged between five and 10 to travel three to five km for education. Not all villages have proper roads, bus facilities or autos,” he added.

Lashing out at Education Minister Botsa Satyanarayana last July for his remark that subject teachers cannot be allocated to schools with fewer than 98 students, Communist Party of India state secretary K Ramakrishna said around 9,000 primary schools have one teacher, and another 4,234 have been merged with upper primary and high schools. Many villages now host one or two classes, and many mothers report exclusion from Ammavodi. Complaints also arise about the poor quality of bags and shoes provided under Vidya Kanuka. Videshi Vidya Deevena is still a distant dream, he alleged.  

The reforms were believed to have contributed to the poor class 10 results in 2021-2022, with not a single student passing the examinations in 71 schools. Anantapur district performed worse, recording a pass rate of 49.7%.

Recently, the state government released a District Selection Committee notification to fill 6,100 teaching posts. However, this drew opposition from other political parties, teachers’ unions and student bodies as the state requires filling of 50,000 such posts.  

“While in the Opposition, Jagan Mohan Reddy had raised concerns about the delay in filling 33,000 teaching posts. However, he overlooked it after assuming office. The present announcement is made in the wake of the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections,” claimed teacher aspirants. They said over 10 lakh people in the state are Teacher Eligibility Test qualified. 


Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli

Cover Photo - Observing the learning improvement program for students of class 6, Gonehal, Bommanahal Mandal (Photo - Paul Babu, 101Reporters)


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