Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Students just numbers in ‘Zero Loss’ theory?

Students just numbers in ‘Zero Loss’ theory?

04th April 2013 10:04 AM
The move to shut down 1,284 schools by the state government with low or zero enrolment could probably encourage school dropouts and child labour in far-flung rural and tribal areas. The announcement by the State Project Director of Rajiv Vidya Mission (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) to ‘merge’ government schools with zero enrolment or with a student strength of less than 10 with neighbourhood schools might have far reaching consequences due to the absence of suitable neighbourhood schools in these areas to fill the gap.
The process of ‘merger’ involves integrating teachers with a neighbouring school and then, moving students to the school. Minister for Primary Education and Sarva Shiskha Abhiyan (SSA) S. Sailajanath said students will be provided the cost of transportation in the absence of a neighbouring school within the specified radius of 1 kilometre as specified by the Right to Education Act (RTE).
But the minister’s words did not cut ice with NGOs. “If we take a look at the expenditure on transportation under the SSA budget allocations, the percentage is zero. In interior areas, there is no transportation facility nor are the roads accessible. Hence, parents are unwilling to send their children to schools farther away. Though there are plans to set up 355 model schools in the state in 2013-14, the ‘merger’ of schools discourages students in rural and tribal areas from pursuing primary education, resulting in an increase in the trend of being employed as a child labour,” observes P Ramesh Sekhar Reddy, program director of Mahita, an NGO which works in the field of development interventions.
Private schools deter the poor
The closure of schools results in few parents enrolling their wards in private institutions. In Chittoor district alone, 303 schools are up for closure this academic year of which 97 had stopped functioning around two years back. “There is a demand for English medium education in private schools. However, closing down schools in remote areas is not a solution as the size of habitations are small with an average 20 to 25 families living there and hence the number of students is less. These students cannot afford to enroll in a private school nor are the parents keen to send their children especially girls to schools faraway for security concerns as well as the money required for transport via share autos, as there are no buses,” says K.V Ramana of NGO Pragathi which works with the Yenadi tribes. A similar situation also faces Araku valley in Vizag where 46 schools are slated for ‘merger’ and 50 in West Godavari.
Tribal areas the worst hit
The fallout of ‘merging’ schools in interior, especially tribal areas, is unique. The dropout rates among SC and ST children in progressive classes increase due to the inaccessibility of upper primary schools in the vicinity. “Linking of Integrated Tribal Development Agency schemes to SSA in tribal areas works against implementing RTE in the true spirit. There are two District Education Officers appointed in these areas, one under the ITDA and one under SSA and there is little coordination between the two. Further, students usually stay at home during the sowing season of seasonal crops as well as cotton picking season and come back to school only in July though the schools reopen in June. There is no cognizance of such issues,” says S. Srikanth, project coordinator for Mahita in Adilabad district. He adds that the rule of ITDA to move tribal children to residential school system where students from a school are shifted to hostels at Gram Panchayat region in third standard results in high dropouts. “In a tribal habitation, the school has only first and second class. Separating the child at a tender age to a hostel on an average 5 kilometre away has adverse effects,” says Srikanth.
Absence of consultations
The provision for setting up School Management Committee (SMC) under RTE with participation from parents has not been adhered to and there is no provision of consultation with parents. “The school buildings after merger are usually converted into community halls or Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centre. There should be a system of inter-linking primary education to such schemes,” observes P. Ramesh Sekhar Reddy.

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