The journey to school is longer than you think

Only when a problem presents itself, do we look for answers and when we do, we find a chance. Priyanka, age 12

Raxaul, East Champaran, 11:10 am.

It was a very wet day. Heavy dark clouds had stolen the blue from the sky and splashed it instead with a cold grey. Priyanka walked with the busy traffic avoiding the muddy puddles and constant splashes from the speeding rickshaws, horses and lorries. Her white pajama bottoms were gradually turning brown and her white uniform was streaked with rain drops and mud spots.

School was over for the day. Over before it had even begun. Their teacher had not come. Priyanka assumed she had gone away on election duty. She wished school would tell you when it was not really open so girls wouldn’t have to travel so far to be told that there is no school. What a waste of time.

Priyanka lived close by, so she could walk. But there were 416 girls in her class. Not everyone lived near by. Girlstravelled on buses, on auto-rickshaws, many took the local train everyday to come to school. All Priyanka had to do was walk over the crowded busy road. School was only 4 kilometres away. But she felt terrible for other girls.

She noticed that slowly, over the past year, a lot of girls had stopped coming to school. She did not blame them. When they were younger, teachers used to take classes outside, under the tree, and the only time classes were cancelled was when it rained. They all loved the sudden rainy outbursts. But ever since they built proper rooms, with desks and chairs and a blackboard, school was no longer the same. The classroom could only seat 200 girls at a time. Though no one had told them not to come, not everyone was expected to come to school everyday. Girls, on their own, had made a silent decision, 200 came one week, and the remaining 200 came the next week. The teachers, if they took classes, never repeated themselves.

Priyanka missed her old school. This wasn’t school anymore, they didn’t teach and she didn’t learn. But that didn’t stop her from going to school every day. She realized she was learning from her family. Without intending to ,she was learning more from them than from her teachers. Yesterday, her uncle had taught her how to make a budget. He’s an entrepreneur and he started his own wedding card printing business – making a budget everyday was crucial for him. After he taught her she was able to explain the process to her friends during their Saturday skill and story class where they had just started reading ‘Asha makes a budget’. But there were onlysix girls at school that day.

When she thought hard about it, if anyone had asked her about her problems, she’d tell them for sure: we don’t have working schools in my district, and if you want to do well in exams, that’s quite a problem. Priyanka was scared that she might not be able to do well in her exams. How many questions would she answer if there was teacher was teaching? Would there be no more classes next year? What about Grade 11 and 12?

She swung her bag across her left shoulder to relieve the weight. Some girls were not allowed to go to school, some girls had to come from so far and others just couldn’t afford it. She was lucky to have a family who encouraged her to study and a school close by. But she knew it was a problem. How can you have a school that’s so full there’s no place to sit. A school so full that girls stop coming and no other government school to go to because they did not have room either? Priyanka walked into her house and closed the door behind her. Without teachers there would be no classes, without classes no learning about atoms and molecules, or fractions and geometry or even the tributaries and distributaries of the river Ganga, and without learning how would they write exams and become doctors and engineers and judges that they all aspired to? First thing tomorrow she would speak to her friends and make them realize what she understood, girls were going to have to make their own school a place they want to be.

And that new school, well it opens tomorrow.

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