Pradip Kumar Behera is trying to beat the odds.
A bespectacled man in his late thirties, he is the headmaster of the government school in Unchabali, a village in Odisha’s mineral-rich district of Keonjhar.
Under his watch are 144 students, mostly from the poorer families in the village, studying in classes from the first grade to the eighth. The school has a tree-filled playground and pucca buildings for its classrooms, but just four teachers.
Behera is trying to cope by running four – not eight – classrooms. Students in the first grade share a room with those in the second. The third and fourth graders sit together, as do those in the fifth and sixth, and the seventh and eighth grades.
While the seventh graders sit to the left of the aisle, the eighth graders sit to the right. The teacher spends an hour with the seventh graders, gives them an assignment, moves to the other side of the room, gives the eight graders an assignment before swinging back to the seventh graders.
The solution is unsatisfactory and troubles Behera. The school runs between 10 am and 4 pm – that’s six hours, not counting the time taken out for the midday meal. “The kids are getting an education for less than three hours every day,” he said. “The education we got was better. We need at least six-seven teachers.”
It’s the same story in health as well. Which leads to the inevitable question on why state funding of health and education is so low in Odisha.
ps: have reached Punjab now. State 3. :-)