It’s been one month since my visit to Katihar, Bihar, and yet I still can’t seem to forget the faces of the children that I met and saw. These were happy faces, smiles, and giggles on seeing us enter their building. Looking at our attire and our bags they thought we were teachers from someplace they hadn’t been to. I remember them standing whenever we entered any class and chanting “good morning, ma’am” as my class used to when I was in school. The excitement among the primary classes and gossip among the middle school classes on our arrival is something that has encouraged me to write this blog today. Most of us see the education system of Bihar with scrutinizing eyes and rightly so, but in this article, I would rather focus on the primary stakeholders of this system, i.e., the students. Our main motive for going to Katihar initially was to interact with these very students but we ended up making a bond with them. There was one such girl from Harishankar Nayak’s middle school that we especially bonded with. She was bold, smart, and exceptionally good at Mathematics. We went with her to a district-level science speech competition in Purnia the next day, we stayed through her speech but left early because of our train. However, the Principal told me later that she had won and was now being promoted to the State-level. We, thus, saw that there are many human resources in India but not enough facilities to tap those resources. Certain common issues need to be highlighted concerning the six and seven schools that we visited. One, the washrooms/toilets remain in a pitiable condition. Some places are deprived of water itself while some have leakages, and other schools do not have a different washroom for boys and girls. We talked to a girl from another middle school about the same issue and how the girls there dealt with it while menstruating and the answer did not surprise us. They simply didn’t. They did not attend school for those days because of obvious reasons. I asked myself what I would have done in such a situation, and frankly speaking, I had the same answer. It is the perspective of the students and teachers in Katihar that needs to change. There is an atmosphere of helplessness among the staff and students. Upon asking, we were informed that if a person is interested in quality higher studies they go to Patna or a bigger city, while professors and those who have pursued higher studies don’t usually come back to Katihar. We were also informed that the schools have received no funds for maintenance in the last few years. For any maintenance work, the teachers pool their own money to provide for the extremely necessary chores. Talking about this, there is also a lack of staff which sometimes results in one teacher teaching two or more subjects to a class of 70 students. To attract funds, from anywhere, we need to show the nation what Katihar holds in its human resource bank. Nobody would think of investing in a place that they don’t know about, you can ask yourselves and you’ll see my point. But if we can somehow at least highlight these issues and make people see what organizations like Ed Justice see, it will make a difference. The students of Katihar are the seeds that are waiting to be nurtured to give birth to trees that rise high and grow mighty. It is not unknown that investing in the students of today gives back to the country tomorrow. I would conclude by saying that these children deserve at least the basic foundation to fairly compete in this growing world. We are working towards this goal in baby steps but it’s a long way and we will need as much support as we can get so that children like the smart girl, we met in Harishankar Nayak’s middle schools have a chance at proving themselves to the world.
By Anusha Shrivastava