School Closure - Denial of education to Children of the poor and vulnerable
Ghasiram Panda | 28 Dec 2015

ActionAid, Bhubaneswar along with its Child Rights Knowledge and Activist hub organised a roundtable on 26th Dec at CYSD, Bhubaneswar on the issue of closure of schools in Odisha.

Setting the context of the consultation Debabrat Patra, Regional Manager said that the RCFCE Act, 2009 provides for a justiciable framework that guarantees right of every child to Free and Compulsory Elementary Education in the age group of 6-14 years. It provides non-discriminatory, inclusive and equitable opportunity to receive 8 years of elementary education (Class I to Class VIII), as a matter of right, to each and every child of the country. The RCFCE Act, 2009 therefore strongly mandates to all concerned duty bearers to create, not to delineate the provisions of compulsory education as a matter of child right. In the name of making the school system more sustainable and economically viable, the government of Odisha has initiated the process of closing government schools instead of planning to improve their quality and strengthen them. Adding to the discussion Ghasiram Panda, Programme Manager informed the house that the Government of Odisha has issued of official communication vide letter no 7287/Access/14 of Odisha Primary Education Programme Authority, to close down all primary and upper primary schools in Odisha based on enrolment basis. The primary and upper primary schools where the total enrolment is less than equal to 5 as per DISE 2014[1] would be summarily closed and no new enrolment would be made from 2015 education year. It is estimated to close down a total 165 schools during the initial stage where some of the tribal dominated districts are listed with higher number of schools.As per media reports, in Rayagada district, there are about 19 schools with less than 5 students each. Gajapati and Ganjam districts have 11 schools each. There are 10 schools having less than 5 students each in Kandhamal. Other districts with schools facing the axe are Sundargarh (10 schools), Jagatsinghpur (8), Sambalpur (8), Subarnapur (8), Bolangir (6), Boudh (6), Angul (5), Balasore (5), Mayurbhanj (5) and Bargarh (5). Out  of  the  165  schools,  most  of  the schools  are in  scheduled  areas and  no  one has thought it  proper  to  consult  with  the  Pallisabha/  Gramsabha  before  taking  a decision to close the school, which violate the spirit of Panchayat Extension to Schedule Area (PESA) Act.

Sudatta Khuntia from the Knowledge hub shared that recently, Action Aid carried out a fact finding on the impact of such a decision on children in a selected few such schools.   The decision of the government to close schools with low enrolment has impacted children who were enrolled in and attending such schools. The fact finding was necessary to study the impact on such children and suggest mechanisms to mitigate the same. Explaining some of the key findings Pravat Sutar told that in many schools the enrolment is more than five and many children will be affected by this decision of closure. Children would devoid of the neighbourhood schools and forced to travel to other schools and thus increase in drop outs is expected.  There are no alternate plans by the Government  on what are the next steps after the school closure, even the local authorities are also not sure what is the next step. Students of disadvantaged groups (socially backward and poor families) would be the worst sufferers. Such a decision of closure will create a indirect compulsion towards enrolment of students in private schools and additional financial burden thereof on the poor parents.

Carry forward the discussion eminent education activist like Anil Pradhan, Sudhir Sabat, Pradeepta Nayak, Padipta Sundar Ray express their views that wherever there are good alternative schools available, there the closure seems to a proper decision like in coastal belt of Odisha, but such a decision based only on numbers is not appropriate and other parameters should be taken into account while taking the decision. There should not be a blanket decision on such a matter affecting the future of a child. Instead of strengthening the RTE Act and restructuring government schools, the government is closing, merging and handing over schools to private entities in the name of rationalisation and quality improvement. In spite of the RTE act, which guarantees education and children are forced to leave or dropout of the school education is violation of child rights.

Sri Chudamani Seth, Director, School and Mass Education, Government of Odisha and Shri Mohit Mohanty joined as the guest of the occasion and discuss the pros and cons of closure of schools. A team consist of Ghasiram panda, Sudatta Khuntia, Anil Pradhan and Pravat Sutar also meet with Sri Mahendra Mallik, State Project Director of OPEPA and presented the summery of the consultation.

[1]District Information System for Education