Updated: September 17, 2021 2:13:52 am
Enrolment in Rajasthan government schools across Classes 1-12 has increased by almost 10 lakh in the past two academic years (2020-21 and 2021-22) disrupted by Covid-19. Officials in the state’s Directorate of Secondary Education said they expect the numbers to increase by another 1.5 to 2 lakh in the next 15-20 days, as the numbers are added up.
The jump is in line with the nation-wide trend of private school children, mostly from rural and poor urban areas, shifting to government institutes.
In 2019-20 across 65,000-odd government schools in Rajasthan, 80,88,564 students were enrolled. This jumped to 87,50,438 in 2020-21, and further to 90,59,529 in 2021-22. In the two years previous to 2019-20, the numbers had remained almost static or fallen.
Udaipur has reported the highest increase, at 24,754 students, followed by Alwar’s 26,702 and Bhilwara’s 20,993. Of the 33 districts, only Jhunjhunu has seen its government enrolment come down, by a mere 11 students.
After keeping them shut for almost a year in compliance with Covid protocols, government reopened Classes 9 to 12 this month.
Apart from financial constraints faced by parents on account of Covid, experts and officials attributed the increase to government programmes. Secondary Education Director Saurabh Swami said, “First, SMILE and ‘Aao Ghar Se Sikhen (let’s learn from home)’ schemes had a huge impact. Through these programmes, we have ensured that education was not disrupted. We had online content created by our teachers. Second, we have been promoted to Grade 1+ category in a recent nationwide survey (Performance Grading Index). Third, our model schools and premier Mahatma Gandhi English Medium Schools have received great response from parents.”
The SMILE programme, launched after the first wave of Covid last year, comprises a mix of online and offline education. For children without Internet connectivity and digital devices, teachers are directed to give worksheets twice a week.
Reetika Khera, Associate Professor of Economics at IIT-Delhi, who was part of a recent ‘Locked Out: Emergency Report on School Education’ survey, said, “We found that 26% of children who were enrolled in private schools before the lockdown had moved to government schools now.”
Khera said their survey indicated drop in earnings, closure of private schools at several places, weekly homework given by government teachers and mid-day meals as factors behind the shift. Homework, she said, might not be always very effective, “but there appears to have been an attempt to keep up some semblance of schooling activity”.
Kulbhushan Kothari, managing trustee of the Rajasthan unit of the NGO Pratham that periodically undertakes surveys on learning levels, says most of the increase in enrolment has happened in rural and poor urban areas. “The economically backward classes were financially worst hit in the Covid period. Parents were averse to paying for no classes by private schools and moved to government schools.”
Rajasthan is next planning to add 348 more Mahatma Gandhi schools to the existing strength of 201. According to Swami, against the current 19,000 seats in these schools, this academic year, 65,000 applications were received.
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