A day after the education department announced “merger” of 800 government primary schools in Punjab with less than 20 students and later put it on hold till November 30, elementary school teachers across the state formed ‘Sikhya Bachao Manch’ on Sunday to protest the move. They announced that none of the teaches will be lock their school or shift students. Earlier, the Chief Secretary, Education, in his orders had said that the process has to be completed by October 25. After stiff opposition, the move was put on hold till November 30.
The decision to form the Manch was taken at a meeting of elementary school teachers in Jalandhar on Sunday. On October 25, teachers will hold a protest and submit a memorandum addressed to CM Amarinder Singh to deputy commissioners. “Even then if the orders to shutdown 800 primary schools are not withdrawn, we will be holding a state-level protest rally on November 19 at Dinanagar which is the constituency of Education Minister Aruna Chaudhary,” said J S Sidhu, President, Elementary Teachers Union, Punjab.
“All the teachers have agreed that be it October 25 or November 30, they will not lock any school. No student will be shifted to other schools and no teacher will leave his/her duty in their old school. The schools will not be allowed to shut down. They will be continued. Teachers will not adhere to these ridiculous orders of the government,” he added.
Apart from elementary school teachers’ union in the state, SSA/RMSA teachers union, BEd Teachers Front, Adhyapak Dal Punjab, Master Cadre Union, TET Pass Teachers Union are among those who have also come out against the orders and announced support.
According to the teachers, more than 1168 teachers, the decision will impact students who cannot afford going to private schools. “Be it one student or more than twenty, education is education. This decision is not going to affect any teacher, he or she will get a new posting, but what about those poor students who come to these schools. They are mostly poor children whose parents work as labourers. Already, it is with great difficulty that we go door to door and convince them to send their children to school. Now, when school will change, most of them will drop out. Their parents will never send them to school which is at a greater distance. Eventually, the dropout rate will increase,” said a teacher.
About the government’s claim of only merging schools in 1-km radius, another teacher said: “The ground reality is completely different. Not even 100 schools are within 1-km radius of the another school. If merged, most of the students will now have to travel by more than 2 km.” The teachers also objected to the decision to implement the orders in middle of an ongoing session.
State to prune merger list
The number of schools to be merged is set to be reduced to 637 from 800 as 163 are believed to be outside the 1-km radius limit, said sources. Education minister Aruna Chaudhary said, “The list of 800 schools is a tentative one and the department will consider individual cases. If found outside 1-km distance, we will not touch that school. Also, once nursery classes begin on November 14, admissions will increase and the schools crossing strength of 20 will be removed from the list. So, the final list will be prepared by November 30.”