Facing stiff opposition to the proposed merger of government primary schools where student enrollment is low, the state education department plans to seek help from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) to generate support from the public.
Ravi J Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation (RJMCEI) at IIMA that is working on several projects of the education department, mainly aimed at improving the quality of education at government schools and training of teachers, will be roped in to generate a positive image for the merging of schools.
“We want IIMA to help build awareness among people and get their consensus for the merger of schools. We want the merging to be a smooth process without resistance from the public. We want them to understand that this is for their benefit only. As the center is already working on various education programs of the government, we are sure about positive results,” said Vinod Rao, Secretary Education.
According to a survey by the education department, the merging process will be held in a phased manner. To begin with, some 2,500-3,000 government primary schools will be merged with other government schools. These are schools that are ‘non-viable’ as per the education department standards, with very few students and a high number of teachers.
These are out of an estimated number of 5,100 government primary schools across the state that are with an enrollment of less than 100 and have a second government primary school within a one-kilometer radius.
Prof Vijaya Sherry Chand, chairperson of Ravi J Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation, said, “We are aware of the state government’s decision to merge government schools. We will work on this project if asked to do so.”
In 2013, the education department identified some 13,450 primary schools with 100 or fewer students and some 6,826 primary schools with 50 or fewer students to be merged with the nearest school. However, it could not be implemented due to protests from villagers, civil society, educationists as well as teachers associations citing a violation of the Right to Education Act that mandates every child to have free and compulsory education from the age of 6-14 years of age.
Citing such schools affecting the quality of education in other schools, the department mooted merger proposal several times between 2013 and 2019. The Gujarat State Primary Teachers’ Association (GSPTA) has submitted various representations against school merging to the education minister as well as the Chief Minister. “This will result in a higher drop-out in government schools event at the primary level. It is otherwise high in the secondary classes, the reason being non-availability of secondary schools in villages,” said Digvijaysinh Jadeja, president of GSPTA.
The education department cites the rationalization of teachers in addition to the quality of education as a reason. Non-availability of class and subject teachers, one teacher teaching more than one subject and infrastructure facilities not provided due to less student enrollment are among other reasons, according to a department circular.
Countering the decision, Mujahid Nafees from the RTE Forum said, “We will protest against this violation of the RTE Act that mandates free and compulsory education for all. The government is hiding its own inefficiency by citing the justification that teachers are not available. If there is a shortage of teachers, it is the responsibility of the state government to recruit and fill the vacant posts.”
He also challenged the department’s proposal to provide transport facilities or allowance to students who will have to go to the nearest school. “The transportation facility is a failed model in the state, even the state government is aware of it. So this is only a tactic by the government to fool people,” added Nafees.
The state government has said that no teacher or student would be affected by the merging of schools. As per department survey, the highest number of schools identified are from Banaskantha, Dahod, Kheda and Panchmahal districts, while the lowest is in the municipal corporations of Surat, Rajkot, and Vadodara.