Andhra, Telangana Plan to Shut 10,000 Schools Over Low Enrolment
The move to ‘rationalise’ schools may see closure of about 10,000 schools in both the states. The idea is to merge schools with zero or less enrollment with nearby schools to make them economically viable and to improve quality of education.
Hyderabad: It’s summer vacation but 6-year-old Laxmi visits her school in Sankatonipally village in Ranga Reddy district of Telangana every day. “I love to study and going to school. I can’t wait for the vacations to end,” she says.
The new government rules, however, may prove to be a dampener to her dreams of continuing school after the holidays. Her school has only seven students and the state is planning to shut down all government schools with zero or less enrolment. The government in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh is also considering a similar plan.
The move to ‘rationalise’ schools may see closure of about 10,000 schools in both the states. The idea is to merge schools with zero or less enrolment with nearby schools to make them economically viable and to improve quality of education.
In Andhra Pradesh, the government has already ordered rationalisation of 6,000 schools. In Telangana, the government has asked for a report from the Mandal officers on over 4,600 schools with low enrolment.
But in remote villages, the nearby school might be several kilometers away. This means, rationalisation could end the dream of education for thousands of students.
“Last year, we had a similar order. But the parents moved to stop it. If it happens this time, what will happen to children here? The next school is 3 km away. How will children travel?” asks a worried Balraju, Laxmi’s father.
Around 50 children from this village travel to Amangal town daily to attend private schools with better facilities. Balraju, however, is one of the many parents in the district who can’t afford to send their children to private schools.
In nearby Shankar Konda village too, it’s a similar story. Around 45 children go to the Amangal private school and only eight children study in the village school.
But, has the government really tried to find out why there is a low turnout in schools funded by it? The problem, many say, is with the state-run schools, thus resulting in low turnout.
“The government school doesn’t have good teachers. If the school was good, I would send my children there,” says Ravinder, a daily wage earner. He sends his eldest daughter to a private school, churning out Rs 15,000, but satisfied that she gets quality education.
“It’s difficult for me to manage the fees, but I have no option. Had the government schools been better, I would have lesser financial burden,” he adds.
Travel 2 km from Shankar Koda, a similar story unfolds. With just 10 students in a government school in Dayyalabodu Thanda, the facility just adds to the already dismal picture.
Around 30 students from this village go to a private school. The government has suggested Rs 300 for each student to travel to the private school, when the state-run school shuts.
“There is no mode of transportation. How good is that money with no mode of transportation? If they shut down the school, I will have nowhere to send my children,” rues Chawli, whose daughter studies in the government school in Dayyalabodu Thanda.
The government, other than mulling over the closure of schools, also plans to launch a drive, again, from this month to create awareness. Telangana government plans to conduct campaigns from June 13-20th, examine the situation and then take a final decision. The success of it, however, is highly doubtful.
The Telangana government has been conducting “Badi Baata” or “let’s go to school” campaign across the state to increase the enrolment in government schools. But with little success. In 2016, as per the report submitted by Education Minister in Assembly, there were 405 schools with zero enrolment. This year, despite several campaigns, the number of such schools has gone up to 460. In one year, the number of schools with enrolment of students, less than 20 students, have increased from 3,772 to 4,637. Last year, even the Supreme Court, while hearing a petition, had raised concerns about zero enrolments in government schools.
Advocate Shravan Kumar points out that the government, without improving facilities, cannot convince parents to send their kids to state run schools.
“A court constituted team over-served this too. Parents were sending their children to English medium schools because it assured them of regular teachers, better infrastructure, transport facility, drinking water and overall a better future. Also, private schools let you enrol a kid at the age of three years, unlike government schools where the age is five years,” says Kumar, who is fighting the legal battle against the government’s move.
Education activist, Nagati Narayana, cements his argument and says the government has failed to develop facilities and good education in government school.
“The situation is alarming. Earlier more children used to study in government schools but now the trend has reversed. More children are going to private schools. Estimates say there is a thriving private school business of Rs 12,500 crore. Every year we see 65,000 children shifting from government to private schools. Why is government not improving facilities in government schools and choosing the easy way out by closing them?”
JK Raju, who filed the petition in the Supreme Court, says, "The state government cannot violate Right to Education to a child. If governments take the decision to close schools without any logic, which eventually affects the future of thousands of children, we will challenge it further in court.”
Raju isn’t the only one up for a fight. Protests are erupting in Hyderabad, Vijayawada and other districts in both states. In both states, there are over 12,000 teacher posts lying vacant. Teachers and student unions in both states are up in arms, angry and scared at an uncertain future.
The situation has additionally taken a political turn with the Opposition also hitting out at ruling TRS government in Telangana, which completes three years of rule in the newly bifurcated state.
Alleging nexus of ruling government with the private school lobby, Kalwakurthy Congress MLA Challa Vamshi Chand Reddy said, “In the name of rationalisation, government is closing schools in remote areas. So, basically it’s the poor people who will be effected. Telangana CM KCR does not want to spend money on education. They are killing public education because of their links to private schools. We strongly oppose this move and will not let this happen.”
While the government sets out to change the course of the state’s development by vowing to groom the future generation via education, is the decision to shut schools a wise one? Many like Laxmi can only wish for their summer vacations to end as soon as possible.
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