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Villagers holding a meeting to oppose school closure in Rajam village under Bailamala GP of Tumudubandh Block, Dist-Kandhamal , Odisha

The recent news of the primary school of Bhulia village under Bhawanipatna Block in Kalahandi District of Odisha has raised the concern of many as the children of this schools are being taught beneath a tree from the last three years. The classroom is one of the most important factors affecting student learning. Because a child spares most of his/her time in school as a student. Therefore, school infrastructure becomes an important factor behind how a child sees the world as he/she grows up.

Despite the state government’s several measures, the state of public education in Odisha is appalling and shows no sign of improvement. While the state government celebrates being one of the first States in India to initiate the process of implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, several gaps in its implementation has put the government in the dock.

Right to Education Act 2009 ensures two basic things. One is for the state government to provide free elementary education and second is to ensure compulsory admission, retention, and completion of elementary education to every child. However, in Odisha’s case, this seems to be a failed commitment in many aspects as there are lots of bottlenecks in implementing the Act.

 

State figures:                                                                                           

  • Only 6.6. per cent of the state-run schools of the state which is compliant with RTE prescribed norms after 10 years of implementation of Right to Education Act 2009 (Report of National RTE Forum)
  • There are 306 schools where there is no school building (ASER 2018)
  • 9228 school kitchens are being operated without a shed. ( a reply to Odisha Legislative Assembly by Mr Samir Dash, Minister of School and Mass Education, Government of Odisha (November 27, 2019) 
  • 3,481 classrooms short in schools across State (OSEPA)
  • The state government has also closed down 1160 schools where the student strength is less than 10 in the current academic session which is a gross violation of the RTE Act. (Odisha School Education Programme Authority (OSEPA) 
  • Niti Ayog’s School Education Quality Index (SEQI) report nearly 25 per cent elementary schools in the State failed to meet the teacher norms mandated under the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

The state figures that alludes sluggish implementation is significantly a failure in three prominent aspects i.e. infrastructure, service delivery/quality and policy implementation.

RTE Compliance is a basic parameter to assess the progress on provisioning to the implementation aspect of the Act. A survey by the Unified District Information System of Education (UDISE) has found that less than 13% of schools across India are compliant with the law and in Odisha’s case, it’s only 6.6. per cent.

Education plays a very critical role in deciding the growth of the nation and hence it’s not merely a public good. But non-responsiveness and lack of political leadership to ensure children’s Right to Education is something where focused intervention is missing. Unless prioritized, it may encourage private players to enter into the education sector and enrolment in government school will further dip in as the trend says.

Recently, a report card on the study of 960 elementary schools of Odisha was released by Odisha Shramajeebee Mancha and Mahila Shramajeebee Mancha that brings out several gaps where the government needs to work on priority to realise children’s Right to Education (RtE) in its framework. The study reveals that 450 schools don’t have electricity connection and 437 schools also do not have library facility out of a total of 960 schools.

The study findings also revealed that a total of 835 primary and upper primary schools, which account for 85.93 per cent of the schools surveyed has no Computer-aided Learning Laboratory. What surprises more is that mid-day-meal is not being provided to children in 98 (10 per cent) schools.

The anomalies in schools do not end here. The survey report specified that as per Right to Education norms these schools should have 5,976 classrooms. But, they are running short by a whopping 3,481 classrooms.

Though State Government asks the school authorities to ensure that students are not allowed to go outside the school campus between 10 am and 4 pm, around 75 per cent out of 960 surveyed schools didn’t have a boundary wall, the findings disclose.

Recently, Odisha’s Ganjam district has come to limelight by introducing ‘water bell’ to remind children of drinking water. Similarly, on July 11, 2018, State Project Director of OPEPA Bhupendra Singh Poonia communicated the District Education Officers (DEOs) and District Project Coordinators (DPCs) of the districts concerned about the lack of drinking water and asked them to make a drinking water facility in all schools by July 31.

But the findings reveal that drinking water the facility was not available in 238 (25 per cent) schools out of 960 surveyed schools.

The report of Niti Ayog’s School Education Quality Index (SEQI) also poses questions on the state government’s stand on ‘equity in education’ as the report mentions that not a single school in the State has provided aids and appliances to Children with Special Needs (CWSN) as per the Niti Ayog’s The study findings from the 960 schools of the state also reveal that 238 schools out of 960 which accounts to around 25 per cent have no ramps for the special children. Also, more than 70 per cent of schools do not have toilet facility for children with a special need.

The need for training for School Management Committees (SMCs) has also been high. The findings on the functioning of SMCs reveal that 322 (33.5%) schools from the 960 schools do not have functional School Management Committees.

“Under the RTE Act, the members of School Management Committees (SMCs) should monitor the working of the school, prepare a school development plan and monitoring the utilization of school grants. However, most of the members in rural and especially in tribal-dominated areas are not aware of their role and responsibilities. The state government must provide adequate training to them so that they can actively participate in the school governance process,” said Mr Anil Pradhan, Convener of Odisha RTE Forum.

School Closure

Dilapilated school building in Rajam since last 5 years and school is closed

Under SATH-E programme, around 1800 schools have been closed/ in the verge of closure as there is a steady decline in the children’s enrolment in the government schools.

According to the programme, the students from these schools will be transferred to neighbouring institutions and schools have already been identified to be merged with nearby schools. “Despite efforts, as the state government advocate, parents are not keen to send their children to the government schools and enrol them in private schools. What’s the most terrifying is that instead of initiating measures to revamp public the education system, steps are being taken to close down schools”, the government defends.

However, the parents and villagers have a different story to tell. They claim that teachers do not attend school regularly. “Many of the schools have one teacher or two teachers. Mid-Day-Meal is not being served regularly. So, how a school will run with this situation especially in a remote area, asks Ms Sumitra, a member of Mahila Jana Jagarana Manch (MJJM), a people’s collective in Rayagada, who is an eye-witness to the post-effect of school closure in Pinda village one of her working areas. Unfortunately, Rayagada district alone has witnessed the closure of 121 government schools which have more than 60% tribal and Dalit Population.

Why school closure is not accepted?

Bundru Upper Primary school in the verge of closure

School Closures and Mergers, a multi-state study of policy and its impact on the public education system in Odisha, Telangana and Rajasthan (2017) undertaken by Save the Children India also states that there are many reasons why school closures cannot be accepted.

“The closure/merger policy is also a contravention of the fundamental spirit behind section 6 of the RTE Act, which stipulates that ‘for carrying out the provisions of this Act, the appropriate Government and the local authority shall establish, within such area or limits of the neighbourhood, as may be prescribed, a school, where it is not so established, within three years from the commencement of this Act”, the report says.

Section 3 and 8 of the RTE make it mandatory for the Government to provide free and compulsory education to every child. Section 8(b) entails the state to ensure the availability of a a neighbourhood school and 8(c) ensures that the child belonging to weaker sections and the child belonging to the disadvantaged group are not discriminated against and prevented from pursuing and completing elementary education on any grounds. Both 8 (b) and (c) are violated as the state withdrew the neighbourhood school for children in their locality no matter what it interprets as the neighbourhood in its subsequent Rules of implementation of RTE.

“The impact of closure will be even more on tribals and Dalits because they have remained excluded from education for a long time”, the report says.

Naba Kishor Pujari is an author, columnist and Media professional and has been writing on education issues since last 10 years. His articles have been published in Odia, Hindi, English and Turkish journals and newspapers.  He has received JP Overton fellowship for Education Policy in 2012 for his work on public education in India. Based in Bhubaneswar, Mr Pujari is awarded Laadli Media Award 2017 for his contribution in writing in newspapers on women’s rights, Duradarshi Samman 2013, Saptaka Literature Award in Youth Category for his contribution to literature and media. 


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2 Comments

  1. What is Naba Kishor Pujari’s definition of svgood balanced education in terms of the outcomes achieved, please? While agents are possibly eating up the funds supposed to be allocated by the government to building ‘proper’ schools enough to fill the need, are there ways of developing the bare minimum in infrastructure in the community necessary for teaching and leading the children out from their current state into an active, dynamic state that raises their level of existence with the help of the rule of law?

    • Naba Kishor Pujari says:

      Yes, you are true Mohammad. Even after 10 years of implementation of RTE, minimum infrastructure facilities are not still ensured