Given a projected decline in the population of elementary school-going children, the Economic Survey, while stating that this will have “very important social and economic consequences”, has highlighted the need to consolidate or merge elementary schools to “make them viable”.
Recommending a paradigm shift in policy related to the Right to Education, the Survey states that consolidation of elementary schools in the country “is not about reducing investment in elementary education, but an argument for shifting policy emphasis from quantity towards quality and efficiency of education”.
According to the Survey, the population in the 5-14 age group, consisting of elementary school-going children, will decline by 18.4 per cent between 2021 and 2041. It states that this age group will drop sharply in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka by 2041. It also highlights “laggard states” such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
“As of 2016, population in the 5-14 age group, which roughly corresponds to the number of elementary school-going children, has already begun declining in India and across all major states except Jammu and Kashmir,” the Survey states.
It says the number of schools per capita will rise “significantly” in India across all major states, and that the number of elementary schools with less than 50 students has “increased over the past decade across all major states except Delhi”.
“States such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have more than 40 per cent of elementary schools with fewer than 50 students enrolled.” According to the Survey, the same trend exists in the states of Chhattisgarh, Assam and Odisha.
Underlining the two factors — decline in the 5-14 age-group and increase in the number of elementary schools with less than 50 students — the Survey states: “The ‘optimal’ school size varies widely according to terrain and urban clustering, but this sharp increase in number of elementary schools per capita needs to be carefully studied. The time may soon come in many states to consolidate/merge elementary schools to keep them viable.”
It recommends that schools located within 1-3 km radius of each other can be chosen “to ensure no significant change in access”.
“This would also be in line with the experience of other major economies witnessing a decline in elementary school-going population, such as Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore and Canada, which have implemented policies to merge or close down schools,” the Survey states.