By Ankita Gupta
The Maharashtra State Government has decided to close over 1,300 Zilla Parishad schools which had 10 or fewer students. In a parallel piece of legislation, the government will be establishing 100 international schools. The decision was announced by the state education minister Vinod Tawde at the State Assembly in Nagpur.
Globalisation triumphs over Swadeshi pedagogy
Maharashtra’s education department has decided to shut down the Zilla Parishad schools with less than 10 students, citing that the low student count is an indicator of the poor quality of education. “We are not closing these schools, rather we are accommodating these students in other schools in the vicinity, in which we have followed all RTE directives,” asserted Minister Tawde.
With this move, the government has set the stage for the introduction of more private schools. They have also sanctioned an amendment clause to the Maharashtra Self-Financed Schools (Establishment and Regulation) Act that will allow private organisations to set up schools on a no-profit and no-loss basis. Government officials have defended the decision to “provide a platform to children who cannot afford similar education in private schools.” They insist that the interests of the students and teachers involved will be protected.
A case of education trafficking?
The circular issued by state board announcing the close of 1,314 schools, with less than ten students has put the education of more than 10,000 children in peril. Many of the schools listed for closure are Grade-A institutions in their districts.
The state government’s decision to open 100 international schools as a replacement has placed their priorities under the microscope. Tawde has tried to quell the apprehensions that this move will only serve to help rich pupils arguing, “Even today, private players have made inroads in school education. We have only simplified the process.” He has promised the regulation of school fees and the promotion of the state’s language in these schools.
However, the steps that will be taken to accommodate students after shutting down the government schools—in particular, what kind of aid will be given to poor children in order to pay private tuition—is still unclear. Instead of improving the overall level of education, the Maharashtra government has been accused of supporting only the expensive international schools. Since there are no private organizations which aim for ‘zero profit’, the quality of tutoring under this new system has been challenged. The government’s decision may even be an obstacle to the constitutionally protected Right to Education.
A grim outlook for rural students
The Right to Education Act says that the distance between a primary school and the house of a student must be less than one kilometre until a student is in Class V, and less than three kilometres for students in Classes VI to VIII. With the closing down of the government-run schools, rural children will face longer walks to school, and for some, it may spell an end to their education.
Even though the Education Ministry has asserted that the students will be relocated to ‘nearby’ schools, the parents of the affected students are not satisfied. They are unwilling to send their children to far off locations given the state of the kutcha roads, unsafe terrain and lack of public transport. “Schools at tribal, hills, and nomadic hamlets will be shut down, thus closing the doors of education for these children. How do you expect small kids to cross rivers, hills in the Konkan region or dangerous Naxal affected areas in Gadchiroli and Vidarbha region, alone?” said Legislative Council member Kapil Patil.
After the increasing incidents of sexual assaults, people are especially afraid of sending under-age girls to new locations. Many parents and teachers have bitterly protested the state government’s decision, calling it absurd and unfair. “It doesn’t matter if the school has very few students. If there are students, then there should be a school,” urged Patil. The Maharashtra government should rethink its new school policy before it is left with no choice.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius