Over 12.5 lakh students of private schools in Haryana have not enrolled for the current academic session almost three months after it began, prompting the Directorate of School Education to send out a directive to district officials expressing “apprehensions” that they might have dropped out.
The data submitted by private schools to the Haryana Education Department shows that 17.31 lakh students had enrolled for the 2021-22 academic session as of June 28, against 29.83 lakh last year. The state has 14,500 government schools and 8,900 private schools.
The directive by the Directorate of School Education this week says, “(The details) of as many as 12.51 lakh students, who used to study in private schools, has not been updated on MIS (management information system). You are directed to hold meetings with heads/managements of private schools to get updated the data of these 12.51 lakh students so that the apprehensions of their dropping out can be minimised.”
Officials say some of these children might not have been enrolled by the schools themselves over fee issues, and some could have moved to government schools. However, there will be others who have dropped out as they have no access to the online mode during the pandemic-induced lockdown, said an official. “Students, especially from rural areas, might have found it difficult to continue their studies. Further, a large number of people have lost their jobs during the pandemic,” the official added.
Haryana Education Minister Kanwar Pal Gurjar told The Indian Express he was surprised by the “huge gap” in the number of those enrolled this year and the last academic session. “We will get the issue examined.”
Ram Mehar, member of the management of a private school in a Fatehabad village, said, “The general belief is that schools won’t open this year also. Under these circumstances, some private school students, mainly from junior classes, have not joined any school for the ongoing session.”
Rajesh Chaubara, a labour activist from Chaubara village of Fatehabad district, said he knows many who are not able to send their children to school any more due to loss of incomes. “A large number of labourers, especially engaged in construction-related activities, have lost their jobs. Their children are sitting at home.”
Owners of private schools said some of the missing children belong to migrant families which have moved back to native places due to lack of work.
However, according to private schools, one major reason is the stepped-up efforts by government schools to draw children to their ranks. A video doing the rounds on social media shows teachers of a government school making rounds of Bhatta village in Kaithal district with a loudspeaker, urging parents to send their children to government schools. The three-man group says the schools are fully staffed, have hard-working teachers and have also started classes for non-medical subjects. “Get your children admitted to government schools to avoid the heavy fees of private schools. Ab ki baari school sarkari (This time, choose government schools),” they say.
Kulbhushan Sharma, Haryana president of the Federation of Private Schools’ Welfare Association, said, “The existing rules have a clear provision that no student can take admission in a new school without obtaining a school leaving certificate (SLC) from the previous institution. But the government is violating this provision with impunity. Government schools are admitting students irrespective of whether they have obtained an SLC or not.”
According to Sharma, a large number of teachers employed at these private schools have lost their jobs as their resources crumble. “Reeling under the onslaught of Covid for more than 15 months, private school owners were hoping that the government would come to their rescue and some sort of relief package would be announced for them, but all such hopes have come crashing down.”
Recently, the National Independent Schools Alliance, a body of budget private schools, approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking its intervention on the SLC matter.
Government officials say they are only acting as per the provisions of the Right to Education Act, which says no student can be stopped from seeking admission in government schools till Class 8. Haryana Additional Chief Secretary (School Education) Mahavir Singh told The Indian Express: “We have not done away with the (condition) of SLC and only admit students on a provisional basis (so that there is no break in their education).”
Afraid of more losses, the Private Schools’ Association of the state has also demanded that schools be opened as soon as possible, with Covid protocols and SOP in place.