Column: Make Children’s Journey To Schools Safe

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: One read with some concern media reports about children of Ambiliamba village in Sorada block of Ganjam district having to cross Padmabati river by walking over the 40-feet high guard wall of Harbhangi irrigation project to reach their school at Borda.

This is a daily ordeal for the children of the village surrounded by hills and forests in chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s home district. The report said that Borda is situated at a distance of 6 km from Ambiliamba but the villagers, as well as their children, prefer walking over the narrow guard wall as the approach road passes through hilly and forest-clad areas. One mis-step on the guard wall would mean landing straight into the river flowing below.

While one can understand the reluctance of people to take the longer road route which is both time-consuming and difficult what is more worrisome is that a bridge over the river is unlikely to be constructed any time soon because of the cost factor. On the other hand, villagers have refused to heed repeated warnings about not using the guard wall to cross the river.

Incidentally, this is not the only instance of children encountering hazards to reach their schools in various parts of the state. While in some cases part of the responsibility also lies with parents who ought to be more alert and caring it is the government which must take the blame in majority of the cases.

There are areas where small children are forced to ford rivers daily or walk over rickety bridges to reach their alma maters. Parents have been complaining that their repeated appeals to the local government officials to address the problem on an urgent basis have gone ignored. School authorities, too, have been trying to seek the cooperation of concerned officials without much success.

This is a sad state of affairs as ensuring safe passage of children to schools is the prime responsibility of the government. School education has improved in many ways in Odisha with several reform measures having been initiated over the years. Steps have also been taken to ensure that children out of schools are mainstreamed into the education system.

One of the most important initiatives in this regard is the mid-day meal (MDM) scheme which, despite occasional glitches and controversies, has been a huge success in Odisha. It has succeeded in reducing the school drop out rate and brought into schools underprivileged children whose parents were not willing to educate their wards as they wanted them to start earning at an early age and contribute to the family kitty.

But while all these are laudable steps the government must take care to ensure basic facilities like safe school buildings and good roads in areas where the schools are located. Special efforts should be made to ensure that children in any part of the state do not have to risk their life and limb to reach schools which should also have provisions for safe drinking water and basic toilet facilities. Our education system cannot achieve its goals unless we succeed on this front.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)