Rural education in J&K

Dr. Kavita Suri
Rural education and rural infrastructure in the schools is very important as majority of India (69 %) still lives in villages. According to a survey conducted by Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014, a number of issues in Government schools exist. People living in rural areas do realize the importance of education but poverty does not allow them to send their children to private schools and hence they are left with no choice but to remain dependent upon government schools only. Infrastructure is a big issue in rural schools of India and the level of infrastructure needs a lot of improvement.
Jammu and Kashmir has 72.62 percent of people living in the rural areas of the state while 27.38 percent people live in urban areas of the border state. The literacy rate in rural areas (excluding 0-6 Population) is 63.18 percent while it is 77.12 percent for urban Jammu and Kashmir. There are a number of reasons for the low literacy rates in the rural areas of the border state, one of which is poor infrastructure in the schools. Several surveys and reports have shown that there are several issues in the elementary education in the rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir including poor school infrastructure. Most of the schools in villages lack proper infrastructural facilities. Students are made to sit on the floor due to non availability of furniture. The school building lacks doors and windows and even do not have proper drinking water and toilet facilities. The J&K Economic Survey 2014-2015 shows that the number of dilapidated schools across Jammu and Kashmir doubled in just one year from 474 to 948. Majority of the Government schools lack basic infrastructure like toilets, washrooms, play grounds, furniture, libraries etc. Many Government schools run out of rented buildings, often in dilapidated shape. Poor infrastructure continues to mar the performance of Government schools.
Lack of Proper Infrastructure
Educational infrastructure in schools means suitable spaces to learn which include adequate infrastructure, sufficient space per child, construction methods that ensure the safety of children in school suited to natural hazards of the region, adequate separate sanitary facilities for boys and girls and for staff, adequate electricity etc.
Inadequate infrastructure in schools is a big barrier to enrollment and participation. The over-crowded spaces lacking in adequate sanitary facilities and lacking water for hygiene not only result in dropouts but also have health implications. Girls in particular are pushed out of school if facilities are inadequate.
According to a survey by Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE), only 6 out of every 10 schools in the country have access to electricity. State-level data throws up an even grimmer picture-one-third of states do not provide electricity to the majority of their schools. The data says that Jammu and Kashmir has a total of 29,047 schools, of which 21,381 schools have no electricity. This survey carried out in the year 2014-2015 in 7,262 villages of the state reveals that 2,667 schools operate without water facilities, 6,351 schools don’t have toilet facility for girls in the schools that have a total of 1,09,692 girls enrolled from 1-8th standard and 4862 girls in 9-12th category. A total of 6,636 women are working in these schools as employees. The data says that 39 schools in J&K are running without proper buildings and 38 schools without classrooms.
A Baseline Survey of Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation shows that Jammu and Kashmir is among the worst states with poor sanitation. The report says that out of 20.5 million households in the state, more than 54 per cent are without toilets. The survey states that J&K is only ahead of Odisha and Bihar.
School Infrastructure – realities in Jammu and Kashmir
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), a campaign for universalization of elementary education was launched in J&K State in the year 2002-03. The state of J&K has been following a policy of providing primary school within a radius of one km.  However, the distance norm has been relaxed by the State from 1 km to 0.5 km in the habitations located on hill slopes, small habitation cut off by Nallah / Streams from the habitation having schooling facility, habitations separated by National Highway / Busy Road, habitations located in forest area. Construction of school buildings in J&K State is one of the most challenging tasks under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan as the State has varied topography, harsh climatic conditions, inaccessible and far flung areas.
The Annual Work Plan and Budget (AWBP) SSA annual works data 2014-2015 reveals that 10894 Primary Schools have been sanctioned since inception of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan out of which 10433 primary schools buildings have been sanctioned. Similarly 6981 upper primary schools have been sanctioned since 2002-03 out of which 1122 schools have been sanctioned. 23198 additional class rooms have also been sanctioned till date. The construction of school buildings is carried out through Village Education Committees and funds are released by State Project Director to Chief Education Officers who in turn release the funds in favour of school authorities. Work is allotted by Zonal Education Officer in favour of Village Education Committee. The payments are made to VEC by school authorities at various pre determined stages. The school authorities are assisted by Assistant Engineer and Junior Engineers. The role of various functionaries is well defined in the guidelines issued by the State Project Office of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and stands already circulated.
Damage to school infrastructure in 2014 J&K floods
The September 2014 floods in Jammu and Kashmir have caused damage to the tune of Rs 64 crore to the infrastructure of School Education Department in Jammu region, where nearly 1,400 schools have been damaged. An estimated loss of Rs 64.11 crore has been caused to the Education Department on account of damage to school buildings in this division. The number of fully damaged and partially damaged schools in the entire Jammu division is 191 and 1,307 respectively. This flood damaged lot of buildings fully and partially.
Improving school infrastructure in J&K
For improving educational standards in the rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir, there is immediate need to address the lack of adequate infrastructure in rural schools.  The buildings which need repair badly should be repaired immediately.  New building should come up and these should have improved sanitary facilities, particularly for girls. Overcrowded classrooms can be reduced by building additional classrooms in existing schools. However, to check the corruption in the civil works in the schools under SSA or RMSA or even State Government projects, community participation should be the only means of undertaking any civil works in improvement of school facilities.  Even the MHRD has suggested that each State must formulate a strategy for civil works in schools and the community would have to come forward to maintain school facilities if any investment is proposed in a village.
School Infrastructure is to be under taken by School Management Committees (SMC) or equal bodies. Before start of construction community/ members of SMCs need training and can be imparted at cluster/block level. There has to be a complete transparency and accountability in the funds received and community contribution received to be accounted and transparency maintained through daily expenditure register daily cement register and site order book. There has to be an adequate and intensive supervision for civil works at three levels – block level, district level and state level.
Civil works under SSA should start with a proper assessment of the infrastructure requirement for each district. There need to be a school-wise compilation of physical and monetary requirements. The attempt should be to find out the minimum money required to provide adequate infrastructure to each school including repairs, toilets, drinking water, boundary wall, etc. Provision of additional classrooms is to be considered only after exploring possibility of repairs and double shifts.
Educational infrastructure has a lot of impact on the educational process and to a lesser extent outlining block to educational disparities. Good infrastructure can play a big role in education for development and increasing literacy rate. The availability of infrastructure elements such as type and conditions of classes, availability of toilets, electricity, library, computers, play a significant role for improving the learning environment. Good infrastructure is truly at the base of quality education and thus stress has to be laid on providing good infrastructural facilities in the schools of rural J&K.
(The author is director and head, Department of Lifelong Learning, University of Jammu)