Despite being the national topper in literacy, Tripura is facing an enrolment crisis in many of its schools. A recent government report said that 147 out of 4,398 government schools in the state have less than 10 students while 13 others do not have any students at all. In an effort to mitigate the enrolment crisis, the incumbent BJP-IPFT government has chosen to close down 13 schools and hand over 20 others to a private educational trust.
As per the Department of School Education, seven out of 20 schools which were handed over to ISKCON are from each of West Tripura and South Tripura districts. Apart from these, two public schools from Khowai district, one from Gomati district and three schools in Sepahijala district were also handed over to the educational trust.
Why is there an enrolment crisis?
Erstwhile CPI(M)-led Left Front government established a wide array of schools, many in remote hilly tribal villages. This step can be traced back to the Tripura Janasiksha Andolan led by tribal leaders like Dasaratha Debbarma, Sudhanya Debbarma, Aghore Debbarma, and others. However, many of these schools set up in distant villages didn’t have sufficient students to teach and, hence, they fell prey to acute shortage of enrollment over the years. According to a recent report, the state govt spends Rs 21,138 per student in a year in the primary level whereas the figure stood at Rs. 76,000 in the elementary level. But with no students to teach, the government is suffering from fund drain in such schools where enrollment is poor. Two years ago, around 35 schools got shut down in tribal ADC when the Left government was still in power.
Education Minister Ratan Lal Nath, who acts as cabinet spokesperson, informed that a recent cabinet meeting decided to shut down 13 schools since they didn’t have sufficient student enrolment. “We have got 4,398 government and government-aided schools in Tripura. We have closed down 13 out of these for non-availability of students. 147 others have 0-10 student enrolment. We have decided to put this infrastructure to use by handing them over to the India Tribal Care Trust run by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON),” Nath told reporters.
What does govt aim to achieve through this move?
Nath said he wants all private educational institutions to be in fierce but healthy competition with the government education sector. “I want to start a strong competition between government and private education providers. Let’s see who performs better,” he said. The minister also claimed his move is getting applause from students and guardians who were stranded in villages with less teachers and poor infrastructure.
Besides, the state government will shoulder all expenses of 3,000 students from disadvantaged groups to study in private schools of their choice from the next academic year. Nath also said his government will ensure admission of 25 per cent students from poor families in each of these schools from the next academic year.
What are the conditions for management transfer?
According to conditions laid out by the government, the private trust would have to ensure affiliation with either CBSE or ICSE along with minimum enrolment of 30 students to begin with developed infrastructure.
The government has, however, clarified that they aren’t transferring ownership of the schools to ISKCON but only handing over management rights for a period of five years. A positive performance review would guarantee the extension of the agreement.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) would soon be signed between the state government and the religious organization soon. Meanwhile, the government would continue to provide free textbooks, uniform grants, and mid-day meal.
Tripura’s literacy story
As per the state government report, Tripura’s literacy rate now stands at 94.65 per cent. In comparison, the literacy rate in Kerala is 93.91 per cent while Mizoram has 88.80 per cent literacy rate. The latest figures suggest that Tripura tops the chart of states with regards to literacy.
This is what former education minister said about the move
Former Education Minister Arun Kar, who served in the position in Congress-TUJS coalition government from 1988-‘92, said many schools were established illogically to serve political purposes in the past. “Many schools were established solely to serve political purposes. The local population’s requirements don’t justify them. They should be identified and either redistributed according to genuine requirements or completely closed down,” Kar told indianexpress.com.
However, the former minister expressed grave concern on the privatization move and said the plan might not take flight. “It is hard to imagine that private players will get success with hefty education fees on the bucket while the government has already failed with zero, if not minimal fees,” he said.
Tapan Chakraborty, who served as education minister in the Left Front government till 2018, was not available for comments.
Are more private players in sight?
Many renowned private educational institutions like DAV have expressed interest to the Government of Tripura for taking over more schools from them.
“Prominent educational organizations like DAV are trying to come to Tripura. ISCKON initially wanted to take over 53 schools. We might hand over other schools to prominent educational institutions based on their performance and feasibility. But we will not close down any school,” Nath said.