Tamil Nadu is set to distribute free shoes and socks to students of government schools from the next academic session, an addition to what is already arguably the country’s best welfare schemes for the education sector.
According to a statement by state School Education Minister K A Sengottaiyan, students of classes VI to XII will get shoes and socks instead of free chappals that are distributed at present. The decision, however, has invited some criticism from experts in the education sector, who contend that the government should have consulted child specialists, considering the state’s climatic and social condition.
According to minister Sengottaiyan, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has issued orders to distribute shoes and socks. Under the existing scheme, the state government provides free footwear (chappals) to 58 lakh students from classes I to X. The scheme was implemented in the 2012-13 academic year.
As part of the decision to upgrade the scheme, announced on Monday, the government has allocated an additional Rs 10.2 crore, according to a statement.
The free footwear scheme was introduced for students considering health reasons such as hookworm infection, especially for children in rural areas where many government school students come from socially and economically backward classes and have to walk long distances to their institutions through unhygienic environments.
How TN govt tries to promote education
A pioneer in implementing nutritious midday meal scheme, the Tamil Nadu government runs 14 free welfare programmes in the education sector. Among these are schemes such as free textbooks for all schoolchildren, free uniforms for all students between classes I and VIII enrolled for midday meal, free bicycles for all higher secondary students, special financial assistance for children of scavengers and sweepers (Rs 950 for those between Class I and V, Rs 1,150 for Class VI to VIII, Rs 1,300 for Class IX, X), free laptops and bicycles for all higher secondary students, free bus pass to all students (Class I-VIII) during an academic year, scholarship for children of school teachers (Rs 5,000 per annum for professional courses, Rs 2,500 for technical education), and scholarship for girl students.
While praising other social welfare models of Tamil Nadu government in the education sector, Justice K Chandru, a retired judge of Madras High Court who gave landmark judgments in issues related to welfare and equity in school education, said that giving footwear is essential when children have to walk long distances to reach schools. But whether it is chappal or shoes is a decision best left to child specialists, “considering our climatic and social condition”, he said.
Pointing out that durability of below-par shoes is doubtful when used in a few days of rain, Justice Chandru said, “Maintaining them in hygienic condition is also a challenge, as otherwise it will invite skin diseases. Any such reform should be in consultation with an expert committee.”
Prince Gajendra Babu, a prominent educationist who runs a school in Chennai, said Tamil Nadu has some of the best welfare schemes for students but also pointed towards reports blaming the Karnataka government for distributing poor-quality shoes to approximately 45 lakh school students in the last academic year.
“We were a pioneer in the midday meal scheme. Free notebooks, textbooks, uniforms, laptops, bicycles, even crayons and drawing for Chennai Corporation schools are among the best schemes in the country,” Gajendra Babu said. “But footwear should ideally be that helps students in their free mobility, without covering it fully. You cannot improve the strength in government schools only by mimicking private school’’ culture. Instead, the government should retain (and improve) all good existing””