Whither Right To Education Act? : Closure of Govt schools in AP
K Laxminarayana Even after three years of implementation of the RTE Act, this educational year also started with closure of Government Primary...
Even after three years of implementation of the RTE Act, this educational year also started with closure of Government Primary Schools in Andhra Pradesh although the government has been holding education celebrations (Samburalu).The closure of the schools continued even after education became a fundamental right after the passage of the Right to Education Act. The State Government has closed down 1284 schools in May this year. The Commissioner and Director of school education issued a notification, RC 113/IC /2013, according to which the schools with below 10 students are to be merged with other schools. Whatever may be the language, it is nothing but closure of schools. As a result, about 2658 schools are closed down. The pertinent question is how come hundreds of schools are getting closed, especially when education has become a fundamental right and, moreover, when there were 15 lakh out of school children in 2011-12 in AP. The reason for the closures, advanced by the Government and the World Bank and their cohorts, is the declining strength in Government schools which is due to teacher absenteeism. If we go to villages where schools are closed, teacher absenteeism is a minor or no problem. The major reason is the Government's own negligence in providing the required number of teachers and other infrastructural facilities in schools. Many a time, experts have suggested location of Anganwadi centers within the premises of primary schools, but the plea was ignored. However, it has been justifying its criminal negligence by taking advantage of teacher absenteeism that is prevalent in some schools at some places in the State. The number of schools having student strength between 11 and 19 is 5717, and with 20 to 60 students strength there were 30,770 in 2011-12. That means there are about 36,487 schools with between 11 and 60 students. If there is not much pressure on authorities to save and strengthen Government schools at grassroots level, all these schools will be closed down within three or four years even by citing provisions of the RTE Act. Similarly, the entire primary education will be handed over to education merchants who will ensure that children from Dalit, Adivasi and other poor families are pushed out by charging exorbitant fees. At least five teachers are required in a primary school to provide quality education. According to schedule of the RTE Act, if student strength is below 60 then only two teachers will be sanctioned. The average strength of a primary school in Andhra Pradesh was less than 58 in 2011-12 .That means in a primary school where there are five classes, there will be only two teachers even as per the RTE Act. Added to this, the State Government issued GOs 55,61 in 2011, according to which one teacher is sufficient if the number of students is below 20 and not even a single teacher is required if the number of students is below 10. Then the question arises how one teacher or even two teachers can teach five classes simultaneously. How can they teach different textbooks in the same period and at the same time? Despite the claims of the primary education minister, 34 per cent of schools are running with single classroom, 13 per cent schools are single-teacher schools, 64 per cent of the schools have no toilets for girls and about 70 per cent schools have no kitchen shed, as per the NUEPA 2009-10 reports. Thus lack of teachers, coupled with lack of infrastructure, is leading to deterioration of quality in education in these schools. Hence, better off sections of parents are withdrawing their children, bringing down the strength of the students. By showing declining strength, the government again allotted fewer teachers and meagre facilities and provided fewer infrastructures, paving the way for closure of more Government schools. The recent amendment to the RTE Act which says a minimum of 20 students is a must to open a primary school also means the existing schools with less than 20 students are not worthy of existence. All these thoughts are antithetical to elementary education as a public good and should not be allowed to be considered in terms of cost-benefit calculations of education merchants. Along with meaningless GOs of the State government and dangerous provisions of the RTE Act, the indiscriminate permissions granted by DEOs to private schools are the basic reasons for declining strength in government schools and their closures. This is clear from villages where schools are closed. For instance, in the name of rationalization, a primary school was closed in Srinivasapuram village of Yalluru Panchayati in Gospadu mandal in Kurnool district. One can state three reasons for this closure: A. There were only two teachers in this school before closure. There were no basic facilities like compound wall, classrooms, etc. B. The government gave permission to a private school within 5 kms. The management of this school took the children of government schools saying that there is no need to pay fees at admission time and that they can pay at the end of the year. Of course, the next year whoever did not pay the fees at the time of admission was denied access to education. The result is that parents withdrew their children and the government school was closed. C. The villagers also complained that teachers did not come on time to the school. However, there are no attempts to monitor teachers by the officials since no MEO has been appointed. Almost the same situation prevails in many villages. Parents of government school children belong to the lowest rungs of society, like Dalits, tribals and families employed in other unorganized sectors. Therefore it is necessary to mobilize parents of affected children to raise fundamental questions and build up resistance against the GOs and policies of the State and the Central government (s). (The writer is Associate Professor, School of Economics, University of Hyderabad: email@example.com)