Where: in Odisha, govt. schools lose students

Updated - January 06, 2018 10:10 pm IST

Published - January 06, 2018 09:49 pm IST

In 2017, the overall pass percentage in the high school-leaving examination in Odisha was 85.28% and capital Bhubaneswar is emerging as an education hub in the east. Yet, government-run elementary schools are being closed for many reasons, including lack of attendance and mushrooming of private schools in recent years.

How many have been closed?

Though the government claims that the enrolment rate in primary and upper primary schools has considerably improved, classrooms have fallen vacant and teachers have been sitting idle. As many as 828 government schools with fewer than 10 students have been closed.

According to the 2011 Census, the overall literacy rate of 72.9% in Odisha remained on a par with the national average of 73%. Between 2000 and 2015-16, the drop-out rates fell sharply from 41.8% to 2.82% and 57% to 3.87% in primary and upper primary levels respectively. Of the 828 schools closed during the past two years, the tribal-dominated Rayagada and Kandhamal districts accounted for 121 and 101 schools. Ganjam, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s home district, has 70 such schools.

Where will they study?

The government has announced that students have to be accommodated in other schools nearest to the village. If schools are closed in a remote place, alternative arrangements have to be made with transport facility to ensure these students reach a classroom. If necessary, a Sikshya Sahayak will be deputed to bring the children to school.

Odisha still has 2,425 schools (2,335 primary and 90 upper primary) with fewer than 15 students. It is not that only interior districts are experiencing this trend.

The coastal district of Jagatsinghpur has 106 such schools; while Cuttack has 110, and Khordha, in which Bhubaneswar is located, has 50 such schools. These schools may also face closure if corrective measures are not taken. School and Mass Education Minister Badri Narayan Patra recently told the Assembly that there were 8,547 primary and upper primary schools in the State having a student strength of 25 or less.

Won’t many drop out?

That is the biggest fear, according to Ghasiram Panda, who has challenged the government decision on the closure before the Odisha State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

Mr. Panda says many students will not be able to opt for schools away from their village and they will eventually drop out. Pritish Acharya, professor at the Regional Institute of Education, Bhubaneswar, says it is imperative for government primary schools to improve the quality of education, infrastructure and teaching staff to dissuade children from dropping out.

The reasons for parents not to send their children to government primary schools are complex and varied. While the government sector involves multiple departments and lacks coherence in approach, English and Odia medium private schools, over which the government has little control, have added to the threat to the government elementary schools that have existed for years without any upgrade to facilities.

What needs to be done?

Provision of mid-day meals is not enough to lure students to government schools. Parents, even in tribal districts, are now sending children to either private schools or residential schools that the Scheduled Tribe & Scheduled Caste Development Department has set up with hostels.

Moreover, a few non-government organisations are extending free education to marginalised sections.

Further, there are hundreds of Saraswati Sishu Mandir schools run by the RSS-backed Vidya Bharati, attracting a large number of children at the primary level. Educationists are worried about the future of children of poor families. They want the government to treat this as a wake-up call to improve school infrastructure and check commercialisation of education.

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