Three years after the state government decided to shut down schools running with less than 20 students, several such schools are still functioning with uninterrupted government grants across the state. For the second year in a row, the state education department has come out with a warning to shut down such schools, and claimed that this time they would take action against such schools.
Around 55 schools in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) are facing closure. However, during the first phase, only one school (with less than 10 students) will be shut down. The remaining 54 (with less than 20 students) will be shut down in the second phase.
Last year, the school education department had issued a circular warning to close around 13,817 schools in the state operating with less than 20 students. This included 55 schools in MMR. The schools were issued notices but there has been no action till date. This year, the state education department has come up with a circular against around 1,314 schools having less than 10 students each, including one school in Mumbai.
According to the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the state can shut down schools that have less than 20 students. The education department had carried out a survey in 2009-10 in this regard, but the decision to close the schools hasn’t been implemented yet. There are 13,817 schools across the state with less than 20 students, and 5,002 with less than 10 students, according to education department records.
Of the 5,002 schools, 1,314 are facing closure. The others are either social justice or tribal welfare department-run schools, which are excluded from being shut down. When a school is shut, students and teaching staff will be shifted to other schools nearby. “The circular had announced closure of schools having less than 20 students. Due to resistance from parents and activists, the drive could not be completed. But, starting this year, the state education department has decided to restart the drive phase-wise. During the first phase, only schools having less than 10 students will be shut down,” said B B Chavan, deputy director of school education, Mumbai.
The order for the closure of these schools was given in 2014, as the government was facing problems in running its schemes, including mid-day meals, and maintaining pupil-teacher ratio among other things. “We are following norms as per the RTE Act. Besides, many of these schools were found to be cheating the department. Some had only a single teacher, though collecting salary for two teachers. All this has now been discontinued. We will ensure no student will be affected by this decision. The decision followed dialogue with these schools and education officers,” said a senior official from the school education and sports department.
“The state government has just been issuing warnings. And why is it doing this phase-wise? It’s a waste of money and resources by engaging one teacher for 10-20 students. They could have shifted these students and teachers to other schools three years ago. The state government must not have spent so much money on these schools since 2014,” said Arundhati Chavan, president of the Parents’ Teachers’Association United Forum, an NGO.