Puranman Dhayal still misses the toilets with their shiny tiles in the Raiger Basti Primary School in Durgapura, Jaipur. They were still new when he and all 90 of his students had to move away in July to a cramped, dark space in a heritage building, where another primary school already functioned. The move became necessary because Dhayal’s school was merged with the Government Senior Secondary School, Durgapura, which occupied the rest of the heritage structure.

The fully-tiled toilet block with quality fittings in the Raiger Basti school had been inaugurated in April 2015. “They were as good as hotel bathrooms,” said Dhayal, who headed the school in Raiger Basti till its merger last year. “Teachers from neighbouring schools used them too.”

The toilet block was not funded by the Rajasthan government but built from money donated by Jaipur builder Sudhir Kumar Paliwal and dedicated to his mother, Chandravati.

Rajasthan’s public schools know not to look to the government for funds. Even for very basic amenities such as electricity connections, toilets, classroom furniture, uniforms and stationery, they seek “jan sahyog” or community participation. Many schools have prominently placed boards on their premises listing the names and contributions of their well-wishers. Networking with private donors and scouting for funds is part of the job description of principals and teachers, who contribute a great deal to building their institutions.

That is why losing the school buildings they spent years developing to mergers – as many of them have – has rankled many staff members and, on occasion, the communities.

Puranmal Dhayal says the toilet block at the Raiger Basti primary school has been damaged in the nine months since the building was abandoned.

Letting go is hard

Since 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Rajasthan has merged over 17,000 government schools, which were considered unviable because of low enrolment, with others. In some cases, the schools have continued to operate out of their old buildings. In others, as in the case of the Raiger Basti school, the staff and students have had to move out. The state government has decided on another round of mergers this summer.

In many schools, the staff have tried to hang on to their old buildings even after moving out. Till last week, the senior secondary school in Durgapura sent their primary students to the Raiger Basti building for mid-day meals, only to assert their claim to it.

At the heritage building that houses the senior school, the primary wing occupies a space that is actually a closed gateway and guardroom. Teachers are attached even to this decrepit space and are fighting efforts by the neighbourhood’s residents to get them evicted so that the space can be turned into a dispensary or community hall.

A community effort

The attachment comes from years of nurturing these institutions, with limited help from the government. At the Raiger Basti school, for example, the public has invested in more than just toilets. In the summer of 2003, a donor, Hiralal, had gone to the school to donate uniforms. “He started sweating in the heat and offered to pay for our electricity connection,” recalled Dhayal. That is how the building got lights and fans.

The Durgapura primary school, which merged with the senior secondary school in 2014, had no electricity till 2002. Sandhya Mathur, who joined it in 1989, taught there for over a decade without fans or lights. It was the husband of Hindi teacher Mamta Sharma, a lawyer, who finally paid for a power connection. And before the three schools were merged, he bought furniture for each of them.

Such schools are greatly dependent on their network of donors. “We get clothes, shoes and stationery from them,” said Amit Kumar Tyagi, a teacher. “Some months ago, we had someone come to donate uniforms. We requested him to consider giving sweaters and shoes as well. He agreed and shelled out Rs 27,000, far exceeding his budget.”

Rooms and buildings

In some instances, entire buildings have been donated and rooms let out cheap so that children have a place to study. In Haji Colony, the primary school runs out of a single room at a dargah for which it pays no rent. The community installed fans and foots the power bills. “On Independence Day and Republic Day, we organise functions and competitions for the children and give prizes,” said community worker Ikram Qureshi. “The government has not paid for anything except teachers and the mid-day meals.”

Residents had petitioned the government for this school to be merged with another in neighbouring Mali Colony, and to replace the building there with a facility that could accommodate both institutions. But the Mali Colony school was merged with a different school some distance away in 2016, putting paid to those hopes.

In Jaipur city’s Pahadganj, residents are still angry that the Urdu-medium school they nurtured since before Independence, even providing land on rent for cheap, was merged into a Hindi-medium institution in 2014.

The state government admits there is a degree of reliance on private fundraising. “The budget provided to welfare departments, such as education and health, is based on available funds and as per requirement,” explained joint secretary, elementary education, Sunil Kumar Sharma. “[But] in the field of education, development work is undertaken with public participation. Funds collected through donations given voluntarily by well-wishers, philanthropists and parents are used to provide extra facilities to students.”

One of two lists of donors on the wall of the Adarsh school in Phagi block, Jaipur district.

A successful school

The best-developed schools, consequently, are the ones that have successfully marshalled funds from private individuals. The Government Adarsh (Model) Senior Secondary School in Phagi block, the envy of Jaipur district, is a case in point.

With well-maintained grounds, a biometric attendance system and a reverse-osmosis filter capable of processing 500 litres of drinking water in an hour, it stands out starkly from other public schools in the area. But the government had little to do with any of it.

Its principal, Amit Meena, took charge in May 2013 and proved to be extraordinarily resourceful, sourcing donations from parents, relatives of students and alumni. Over four years, he raised Rs 85 lakhs – a fortune for a rural school.

Nawal Singh Ratnawat, an alumnus who works in the mining sector, donated about Rs 15 lakhs, including the cost of the water filtration system. Real estate businessman Ranglal Jat bought the school furniture worth Rs 5 lakhs and another donor, Sushila Kanwar, paid for the construction of a verandah with a hall.

Amit Meena, principal of the Adarsh school in Phagi, with its biometric machine for attendance.

When Meena joined the school, it had no primary section and just 270 students in Classes 9-12. It acquired a primary (Classes 1-5) and upper-primary (Classes 6-8) section after being merged with another school in 2014, but no students joined. However, today, the school’s total roll-strength stands at a respectable 1,075, all 12 classes taken together, and it is a real threat to private institutions in the area.

This school, like all the others that depend on donations, has boards with the names of contributors and the amounts they have put in. But Meena, astute enough to know that such generosity is seldom purely altruistic, said, “I give them a lot of publicity.” He explained, “I repeat their names at every function. I print them on pamphlets we use during admissions.” The principal makes it a point to pitch to every visitor the needs of the school, “according to what they can afford”. Through such contributions, the school has received an LED television, green boards, school bags for children, cycle stands, cement benches for the lawns, and computers.

Saving resources

The high dependence on sources other than the government has left activists like Qureshi wondering how much the state is saving as a result of the school mergers. However, joint secretary Sunil Kumar Sharma pointed out that the “purpose of merging schools is not to save funds but to make judicious use of human resources”. He said, “Because of the mergers, teachers will have an appropriate number of classes and students to teach.” He added that the government spends Rs 15,109 annually on each primary student and Rs 24,705 on each secondary student.

Right to Education activists and teachers’ groups have also raised questions about the fate of the thousands of abandoned school buildings across Rajasthan. Many fear that these may go to private parties, with rumours of auctions already swirling.

Sharma said, “Some school buildings are now vacant due to mergers but in other cases, even administratively merged schools are running in their old spaces.” He added, “The vacated buildings have been handed over to district collectors to reallocate to other government departments where they were required, such as panchayati raj, health, animal welfare and ayurveda.”

All photographs courtesy Shreya Roy Chowdhury.

This is the third and final part in a series on the impact of the Rajasthan government’s decision to merge government schools in a bid to improve the quality of education. You can read the other parts here and here.