“I am very fond of the teaching profession. I am also very fond of students. I have dealt with them. I have lectured them in my life. I am very glad to talk to the students. A great lot of the future of this country must necessarily depend on the students of this country. Students are an intelligent part of the community and they can shape the public opinion.” – Dr B R Ambedkar.
In 2016–17 in Odisha, as many as 828 government-run primary and upper primary schools with less than 10 students, mostly from tribal-dominated areas, were shut down. This was done to merge these schools with other primary and upper primary schools located within 1 km and 3 km. It was proposed that the government would provide transport facilities where the distance is above the prescribed limits, or the terrain was difficult.
In another case, the Rajasthan government would be implementing a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode on 300 government schools with poor results. The step was taken to improve the quality of school education.
As per the report, 75% schools in rural areas and 25% schools in urban areas will be identified based on their recent academic results, and these schools will be given in private hands, with a payment of ₹75 lakhs for operating each school. The state government will reimburse the amount over 7 years at ₹16 lakh per annum. Another ₹20 thousand would be reimbursed to the private parties as expenses per student.
It is less than a decade since the Indian government passed the Right to Education Act in 2009, and displayed a will to achieve free and compulsory education for all. But the initiatives of the governments in Odisha and Rajasthan do not reflect on their commitment towards the goal.
Article 21A of the Indian Constitution says that education is mandatory for children in the 6–14 years age group. Hence, it is the responsibility of the government to provide free and quality education to all children. The closing of schools in Odisha based on enrollment level does not show the government’s concern towards children who have dropped out or will be dropping.
Is enrollment level the only criterion to run the schools? What about the children who have dropped out of schools? Why does the government not show commitment to enrolment and retention of all eligible children in schools? There are complex and varied reasons why children do not attend government schools. The government needs to understand this and address the challenges.
In Rajasthan, the government plans to improve the quality of education through the PPP model. While several studies look into quality education, very few studies have suggested the PPP model improves quality. However, most of these studies suggested providing a healthy school environment, child-friendly curriculum, and economic and moral support.
Therefore, the government should have thought over specific interventions in these directions rather than giving schools into private hands. Another critical question is, what would happen to teachers in the government schools in both Odisha and Rajasthan? The governments’ moves are most likely to deny the educational rights of children from marginalised sections and further widen the educational inequalities.