Pune: In a huge development in the State’s education sector, State Education Minister Vinod Tawde recently made an announcement to shut 1,314 Zila Parishad schools in the State with 10 or fewer students, on account of improving the quality of education.
The decision was made stating that the students and teachers at the schools that will be shut would be sent to other nearby schools, and all due transport arrangements for them would be made before the mergers.
Although, the government tried to reason out the decision saying that this will help increase merit, and provide a better standard of education to more number of students, the decision was slammed by educationists, students’ organisations, as well as parents and teachers.
The ‘Rajasthan’ model
When asked about the education minister’s decision, a highly placed source from the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry said that this kind of model has worked in Rajasthan earlier, and hence, it can possibly be implemented in Maharashtra as well.
“In Rajasthan, where the population density is very low in some places, the model of shutting down and merger of schools has been implemented quite successfully.
Taking that into account, the education minister must have proposed a similar plan for the State. This may actually help, as in Maharashtra, we have a situation where some schools have hardly five students, with one or two teachers, on the other hand, some schools with more than 50 students have to be handled by just a couple of teachers. The merger of these schools would be beneficial to the students,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
However, media reports in Rajasthan after the mergers hint towards the mess created by the merger of the schools and government’s inclination towards increasing private sector’s involvement in the education sector, a scenario the education activists have been pointing out in case of Maharashtra as well.
Students’ organisations protest
Right after the announcement, many students’ organisations condemned the decision saying that the deterioration of the quality of education is the government’s responsibility and the schools should not be shut for this reason.
Naseer Sheikh, President, Students Federation of India (SFI) said that the move is a conspiracy to close government schools and promote private schools and turn education into a money making business.
Kalpesh Yadav, City President, Maharashtra Navanirman Vidyarthi Sena (MNVS), said, “The government is not doing anything to promote and help Marathi medium schools in the State. The government should first take actions against officials and authorities responsible for the increasing drop-out rate and deteriorating quality of education, and then think about shutting down the schools.”
Chhatra Bharati too has recently begun a signing campaign to create awareness and get public opinion on shutting of the schools in the state.
Notice from the NHRC
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued a notice to the Government of Maharashtra regarding the decision to close Zila Parishad schools.
The commission has observed that the reported decision of the State Education Department will adversely affect the students, particularly, those coming from the rural background and cannot afford education in private schools. It also pointed out that the decision is violating the RTE provisions that state that the distance of the school from the house of a student should be less than 1 km till Std V and less than 3 km for Std VI to VIII.
Responding to the notice, Tawde said that he is happy with the notice as this will now put an end to his media trial over the decision and he will explain the decision in detail to NHRC during the judicial trial. He also added that full implementation of the decision has not yet been made and it will be done only after an overall analysis of the situation is made by the assigned education officers.
The new amendment to the Maharashtra Self-Financed Schools Act, 2012 has recently allowed registered companies to open new schools.
“This shouldn’t be perceived as the commercialisation of education. The companies are directed to start the schools on a no profit no loss policy, and they will have to abide by the rules applicable to the aided schools. Also, the government will monitor their fee structure, teachers, board, etc. The schools are not meant to make money, but to improve the standard of education in remote, tribal areas of the state,” Tawde said.