Bhubaneswar: Odisha Right to Education Forum (ORTEF) has drawn the attention of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik against closure of Government neighborhood schools in the name of rationalization. Showing its concern about newspaper reports on closure of government primary and upper primary schools, ORTEF – an informal network of civil society organizations and individuals working on the issues of right to education of children – has submitted a memorandum saying the merger of schools may compromise with the educational rights of lakhs of children in the state.
The forum has cited the 7th March 2020 notification by the Department of School and Mass Education (DSME) which says 14339 primary and upper primary Schools with less than 20 students will be closed.
The forum has alleged in the memorandum that such a vital decision has been taken without formal consultation with the communities in the tribal regions, where the maximum numbers of merger and closure of schools are happening.
‘Our analysis in this regard clearly indicates that, almost 25% of the schools in the 56 tribal sub-plan blocks from Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Rayagada, and Mayurbhanj districts have been selected for closure. Blocks like Ramanagauda, Kahajuripada too are facing closure’, says the memorandum.
The memorandum further says that as tribal habitations are small hamlets and closure of the schools without adhering to neighborhood standards will further increase the distance between habitation and the schools. Anecdotal evidence clearly shows that, children especially at the primary level will find it difficult to walk longer distances and it will result in increased absenteeism in schools. With school away from the villages parents will be unable to keep a tab on their children.
Arguing that the proximity provides flexibility to children in terms of school timings the memorandum points out that children – especially girl children who have to attend household chores- can continue their studies and it will facilitate their retention. Further, as parents prefer boys over girls for higher education and get them admitted in private residential hostels school, closing down government schools in the vicinity will deny access to girls’ right to education – particularly rural tribal communities.
The memorandum says contrary to the assurance by the Minister School and Mass Education in the recent past, schools have already been closed administratively and no fresh admission is being done depriving the children during the ongoing Covid crisis.
The forum has demanded the urgent withdrawal of the 7th March notification by the department. It has also demanded that the neighborhood norms under RTE Act 2010 must be adhered to while merging schools in the State. Schools that have been closed must be restored to their earlier positions. A fresh enrollment drive/survey be conducted in the education blocks with low enrolment.
‘The community, SMC, and PRIs must be consulted on school mergers and closures. The list of schools to be merged must be first vetted by the District level Education Advisory Committee’, says the memorandum.