Kerala’s public education system, which once helped shape the state’s model of social development and brought about universal literacy, is today under severe strain. More and more schools are turning uneconomic and the managers of some have got permission this year to shut them down.
Of the 12,615 schools in Kerala, which comprise government, private and government-aided private ones, as many as 5,573 — 44 per cent — are uneconomic as per the state Economic Review 2015. A lower primary, upper primary or high school in Kerala is declared uneconomic when it has less than 25 students, as per Kerala Educational Rules.
Many attribute the trend to a change in the demographic pattern of the state due to a low birth rate brought about by effective family planning initiates. In Kerala, which has the lowest population growth in the country, children in the age group 0 to 6 comprise only 10 per cent of the population. This has reflected in declining enrolment over the last one decade: the number of students in schools that follow the state syllabus fell from 52.49 lakh in 1999-2000 to 37.70 lakh in 2015-16, or by more than a fourth in 16 years.
Simultaneously, the number of uneconomic schools grew over 50 per cent from 3,661 (both private and government) in 2008-09 to 5,573 in 2014-15, according to data with the state education department.
Apart from low birth rate, the growth of schools under the CBSE syllabus too has affected state board schools. In 2003, the state had only 373 schools under CBSE; by last year it had 1,178. Besides, there are 148 ICSE schools. Apart from religious groups, NRIs too have invested in schools that follow a syllabus other than that of the state board.
Dr K P Aravindan, president of Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad, a voluntary organisation that works in the fields of health and education, said a number of factors have contributed to the crisis in the public education system. “Public schools, particularly government-aided private schools, are facing neglect.
Infrastructure in government schools has improved a lot as they have got financial assistance from various quarters. However, aided schools run by private managements do not invest in infrastructure,” Aravindan said.
He said the flow of students to English-medium schools too has led to the crisis. “To arrest this trend of students deserting Malayalam-medium schools, several government schools have started English-medium batches. This is a wrong step; such short cuts will not help. Malayalam-medium schools should introduce better English classes rather than switch over to the English medium,” Aravindan said.
“Many aided schools have been established on land donated by families or religious groups in the past,” he added. “Now, the present leadership of such institutions are more concerned about the real estate value of the property at their disposal.”
Schools turning uneconomic has led to the loss of jobs of hundreds of teachers in government and aided schools. As per the latest estimates, aided and government schools would have 3,800 teachers in excess this year due to the decline in student figures. These teachers would join 12,000 others who had lost their jobs in previous years. Their redeployment in the educational department and other schools has been pending for a long time.
Schools that have sought permission to ring the final bell are often managed by individuals who do not have other schools. As such, they cannot retrench a teacher who loses his or her job.
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Education Minister Prof C Raveendranath said no government teacher would be denied his or her salary. The government would discuss the issue with teachers’ unions, he said. A decision on their redeployment would be taken after accounting for various factors, including finances, the minister said.
This year, the managers of four schools have won court verdicts allowing them to shut these down on financial grounds. The minister said 25 other schools have moved the education department seeking the government’s permission to shut down. “The government would like to continue running these schools. But in the case of the four schools that went to court, we will go by the court directive,’’ the minister said.
Kerala Education Rules permit a management to close down a school after submitting a notice in advance to the education department. “As per the law, the management has the right to do so. Now, we are thinking about amending the law to take that right away from the management,” the minister said.