Teacher hitches a ride to reach school in Mudigere where there’s only one student
Leena Mathais is the only teacher at the Government Lower Primary School in Naxal-affected Balige village in the Mudigere taluk. The school has one student.
Without a regular bus service from the nearest town of Horanadu to the village, Ms. Mathais asks strangers travelling the 6 km distance for a lift. When there’s none to be found, she stays back at the midday meal worker’s house. “I have been going through this ordeal since I was posted here in 2016,” she says tearfully.
From four to one
Built 30 years ago, in 1988, the school has seen a steady decline in its student population. Last year, there were four students. Two passed out; the remaining two joined a residential school at Horanadu.
“When I reach the school and open the doors, I hardly find people nearby. Till the boy [her sole student] comes to school, I have to be alone in the building,” says the 48-year old teacher. Manikantha, 7, the son of an agriculture labourer, joined Class 1 this year. “The school functions for one student. I cook food for him every day,” says Prasanamma, a midday meal worker at the school for 15 years.
When the boy does not attend, the teacher is left with nothing to do. “So that he doesn’t get lonely, I try to keep him engaged with the children at the neighbouring anganwadi centre,” she says. But attendance at the anganwadi centre is no better — of its 3-4 students, only one was present when this reporter visited.
The absence of transport facilities is one of the reasons for poor attendance. “Houses are scattered in the Malnad region. Students have to walk for about 3-4 km to reach the school. Some parents have admitted their children to private schools in Horanadu that run buses for students. Many send their children to government-run hostels,” says P. B. Prakash, a farmer in the Balige village.
Most residents of the region belong to the tribal community of Malekudiyas. The State government has built 14 residential schools in the Chikkamagaluru district, including one at Menasinahadya, about 3 km from Balige village.
In these schools, 50% seats are reserved for children from Scheduled Tribes (ST).
“I have no problems in working here if the transport facility is good,” says Ms. Mathias. The residents brought this up over Chikkamagaluru Zilla Panchayat CEO C. Satyabhama’s recent visit to the village as part of the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) committee activities. “I listened to their problems, but I was not in a position to give them any assurances. We will definitely address the issue,” she told The Media.