Signage on the one-story building proudly announces: Government Elementary Smart School, Kukenet. However, the sign, surrounded by a multitude of stars painted on either side, is the only ‘smart’ thing about the village school.
Nestled in the foothills of Shivaliks in the Kandi belt near the border of Himachal Pradesh in Hoshiarpur, the village of Kukanet is slowly gaining a reputation among nature lovers as Punjab’s best kept secret. The “Forest Village”, with its untouched forests and a huge potential for eco-tourism, however, presents a picture of despair with its ‘smart’ school, which is managed by a single teacher.
To keep stray animals out and students inside, teachers have come up with a unique ‘jugaad’ – pieces of bamboo tied across the campus with ropes forming a “boundary” wall, which is “reinforced”. Has been and ‘ reinforced at strategic points along with other discarded products such as old benches, wooden chairs.
But why this ‘jugaad’ for the newly built “smart” school?
Mukesh Kumar, the sole headmaster of the school, says that he has not yet received funds for the construction of the boundary wall, although it has been a year since the school building was built. There is no toilet in the news building.
The school turns into a cattle shed, stray animals enter the campus even during school hours, sometimes even jumping over bamboo fences. The dung heap outside the school is a testimony to how the campus turns into a shed every night.
“Strange animals keep sitting in the premises and that is why we have got these bamboos installed. How do we keep children inside all the time when there is no boundary wall? There is a road in front of the school and it becomes very dangerous when children try to run outside,” says Kumar.
Classes 1 to 5 in school. up to 41 students
“We have written at least 6-7 times to the panchayat and education department that it is unsafe for the students and the boundary wall needs to be built immediately. But no action has been taken so far. So we had no option but to plant bamboo and for that too we paid the laborers out of our own pocket,” he adds.
The teacher further says that during the rains the situation becomes so pathetic that the animals jump into the building by jumping over the bamboo fence. “Even the parents ask us why we cannot get the boundary wall constructed. They send their children to school, not to the cattle shed. What if a stray bull attacks a child? Who will be responsible,” he asks.
There is no class IV staff or sweeper in this single teacher school. The filth left by the animals becomes another headache for Kumar. “Sometimes we request the panchayat to clean it and other times we hire labourers. Teaching and sweeping both are not possible,” says Kumar.
More than 2900 schools still without boundary wall
Presenting this year’s budget, Punjab Finance Minister Harpal Singh Cheema had said that more than 2900 government schools in the state still do not have boundary walls, and another 2400 need funds for immediate wall repairs. “Schools should be safe and secure places, especially for girl students. Our survey shows that there are still 2,728 rural schools and 212 urban schools that need a new boundary wall and there are 2,310 rural schools and 93 urban schools where the boundary wall needs immediate repair. A budget allocation of Rs 424 crore has been made in this budget for this purpose,” Cheema said.
The budget has not yet reached the schools.