The BJP MPs from Jharkhand have written to Chief Minister Raghubar Das seeking one-year moratorium on merger of primary and middle schools. In a letter to the Das, they claimed that the process had “agitated” people in rural areas and urged the government to review the deeper aspects before going ahead.
More than 6,000 primary and middle schools have been merged in the past two academic sessions – around 1,400 in 2016-17 and around 4,600 in 2017-18. Officials have said that the merger was a part of a process of “re-organisation” of schools and was being done as per guidelines issued by the Government of India and Niti Ayog.
“It is beyond the understanding of the people that schools, opened under the ‘Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan’ under (then Prime Minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were now being closed. The common people in the rural areas are agitated due to this,” the 12 BJP MPs from the state have said in a letter.
They have also pointed out that the buildings, which would become vacant due to the merger, could become the den of anti-social elements in the area.
“On one hand, we undertake drives like ‘School Chalo Abhiyaan’. On the other, we are closing down schools in the name of various norms and guidelines. But the fact on the ground is that, when we undertake such a drive, like School Chalo Abhiyan, the enrollment of students go up. But, by mid-session it again begins to drop due to various reasons. In such an event, if the school is closed, this drop-out rate would increase further for obvious reasons,” Chatra MP Sunil Kumar Singh, who is one of the signatories of the letter, told The Indian Express.
“Whatever be the Government of India guidelines, we can’t lose sight of the fact that our state has primarily hilly and forest terrain. In my own constituency, there is Palamu Tiger Reserve, Betla National Park, Lawalong sanctuary and others. In these areas, we have villages with very small population…So, even if we have 15-20 children (in a school), we can’t deny them the right to education in the name of logistical reasons,” he said, while adding that girl students were more often the worst hit by such mergers.
Giridih MP Ravindra Kumar also pointed out that once school buildings were vacated “reports of anti-social hanging around” such building would flood.
Claiming that the state did not have a target of closing down certain number of schools, Secretary (Education) Amarendra Pratap Singh said: “The norms we are following and the process of deciding as to which school will be merged and which won’t is based on due diligence…The final decision is being taken by the block- and district-level education committees. It is not being done from the directorate.”
Official sources claimed that the exercise of school merger was initiated on the suggestions from the Government of India and Niti Ayog.
“It was also suggested to us that Rajasthan model was one that could be followed. Rajasthan is almost double of Jharkhand in terms of population and nearly four times in area. After merger, they only have 20,000 schools, which have upped their performance. Here, we have around 40,000 schools, but are seriously lagging behind. Merger is only one of the aspects for improving outcome,” said a senior official. He added that there were still more than 1,000 schools where only one or two students were enrolled.