Children of Mahadevsthan Primary School studying in open ground. Sarita Shrestha
DHADING, Jan 23: Every morning Sonisa Chepang has to walk for two hours to reach her school. Despite her toils, the pain she takes to reach her school does not ensure that she will have teachers to teach at the school. Most of the times, teachers remain absent at her school and sometimes she herself stays home.
“When there is lot of work at home, I do not go to school. Or else, I go. But teachers do not come regularly. And sometimes even the principal does not come,” she said. “Sometimes none of the teachers show up at all. Throughout the day, we sit and play at the school.”
Sitamai Basic School located at Mahdevsthan is school to many Chepang kids like her. The school is supposed to start at 10 am and run until 4 in the evening. However, that is not the case with this school.
“Most of the students reach late to the school and some of them even reach school after half time. And, sometimes, teachers close the school early,” Chepang narrates.
Most of the children enrolled at this school reach it by walking over two hours. While some of them carry books and stationeries, some come empty-handed. There is a school building, but that is for namesake. When it rains, the school is closed. When it is too hot or too cold, the classrooms do not protect the students from the extreme weather.
When asked if they are provided sports material and involved in extracurricular activities, Chepang shuddered. Students at the school are never involved in extracurricular activities, considered crucial part of children education.
There are desks and benches inside some classrooms. However, they are not in condition. Blackboard is missing and doors, windows and walls are full of cracks.
“We do not like to sit in. Even teachers do not tell us to sit inside,” said Chepang. “We all sit outside. Desk, benches are kept outside in the ground,” she added. The school has two toilets, built by a local social organization but in lack of water and cleanliness, children hardly use it.
There are 34 students enrolled at this primary school that operates classes till the fifth grade, its administration informed. All of them are from the Chepang community. However, students of all classes sit together as only around 10 kids show their presence generally.
Sonisa has returned home from school several times without opening her books and notebooks even once. When this happens, she feels really, she says. “I reach school after walking such a long distance. It feels real sad, if I have to return home without learning anything,” she lamented.
For her, there are two types of children at the school. Some never care about study while some others take interest in study. She enlists herself among the latter.
When the earthquake in 2015 destroyed her school building, she did not come to school for months. Even though the school has opened now, she laments that academic activities has not been regular.
Hem Bahadur Chepang, a local of Mahadevsthan laments the sorry state of the Chepang Children School. Due to the negligence of teachers, children are deprived of education, he said. “Classes at the school are not regular. This is depriving our children of education,” he said.
He remembers that there were no schools during his childhood. 'That is why' he remained an uneducated person. “But our children should be educated. We are trying very hard to educate them. But considering the way the school is operating, our dreams of educating our children is never going to be fulfilled,” he said.
The marginalized Chepang community are scattered at Gajuri, Rorang and other villages. Due to poverty, few of them send their children to school in the first place. Even those who send have not been able to reap the benefits. Bhumi Tripathi, a local, called for launching a campaign to enroll all Chepang children in school and making teaching learning activities regular at the school.
“The government must launch special campaigns to increase the participation of Chepang children in school. It should also closely monitor the activities of the school to ensure quality education,” he said further warning that in lack of such activities many of the Chepang children will remain illiterate.
He further said that many other schools in the vicinity are also in similar poor condition. Despite the government's huge investment in the educational sector, some children are still deprived of education, he lamented.