Clobbered by an ever aggressive sea and systematically ignored by an insouciant administration, the education system in the Satabhaya cluster of villages in Odisha’s Kendrapara district has collapsed beyond redemption.
And it is the children here who are bearing the brunt.
Over 300 children have literally zero-access to primary education in vulnerable coastal villages like Satabhaya, Magarkanda and Kanhupur. Although the local people have built makeshift school sheds for their children, the teachers’ posts are lying vacant for years,
It’s a mockery of the Right to Education Act, to put it mildly.
As is well known, people here are at war with the sea for the last 35 years.
Threatened by a fast advancing sea, over 200 families of Satabhaya cluster of hamlets are literally living on the edge in this ‘danger zone’. The sea has already gobbled up five hamlets over the last three decades and it is only a matter of time before it devours the remaining tracts of human habitat in Satabhaya. With the sea here slowly inching forward with each passing day, people here wait for the inevitable to happen while the government dilly-dallies in relocating them to a safer spot.
“Tidal waves smashed the village reducing the local Panchuvarahi nodal school to rubble. The guardians had tried in vain to draw the attention of competent authorities.Finally, the villagers decided to build a mud house with a thatched roof to function as the school. Classroom teaching has been severely affected due to lack of required number of teachers”, said Nigamananda Rout, a village elder.
In 2006, after the nodal school was flattened by the sea, villagers built a makeshift shed in its place. The government agencies did not undertake the construction of a new school building on the ground that it would be bad investment because people from these sea-erosion-hit pockets were, in any case, to be relocated to a rehabilitation colony.
The relocation. of course, never happened.
As many as 336 children are enrolled in the school. Ironically, the school has four teachers to do all the classroom teaching while government norms specify at least one teacher for every 30 students. The nodal school has been upgraded to high school status. So in addition to 253 students from standard I to standard VIII, the school also takes acre of the education of 83 more students of standards IX and X.
“We are suffering very badly and we don’t really know who to blame. There are only four teachers for 10 classes. We get our share of just two classes a day”, said standard X student, Renuka Sahani.
Bichitra Pradhan, headmaster of the school, feels posting of more teachers would improve matters.
“We are aware of the problems, but we cannot attend to the students properly because we lack manpower, ” he said.
“The children are being denied the right to free education. As a result, child labour has reared its ugly head here. Many children are being engaged in fishing activity to augment family income. The school dropout rate is also on the rise”, lamented rights activist, Biraja Kumar Pati.
Kendrapara sub collector Pratap Chandra Mishra had this to say: “Funds are ready for the new school building, but it will be set up in the rehabilitation colony at Bagapatia. In the meantime, steps are being taken to post the required number of teachers in the Satabhaya school.”
People in Satabhaya do not take these assurances seriously for they have had enough of it over the last 25 years, ever since the idea of relocating the Satabhaya population in Bagapatia was mooted in the early 1990s.
While they care a hoot for what happens to the much touted ‘relocation scheme’, they are surely a worried lot when the issue is the future of their children in this godforsaken land.