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Open schooling: Educationists sceptical over Maharashtra’s latest offering

Experts suggest screening of students enrolling for open schooling to prevent schools from using it as a way to do away with weak students

mumbai Updated: Aug 02, 2017 00:15 IST
Puja Pednekar
Experts argue that formal schooling is more advantageous for the overall development of the child.
Experts argue that formal schooling is more advantageous for the overall development of the child. (Representational photo )

An alternative to formal schooling will soon be made available to students in Maharashtra, as the state government plans to set up an open school system under the state board. Students unable to attend regular schools will be able to write exams equivalent to Class 5, 8, 10 and 12 through this system.

However, educationists expressed concerns over the system saying it may prompt school to sideline differently abled and academically weak students. 

Much like the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), set up by the central government in 1989, the open school system intends to provide education opportunities to local students who are unable to access mainstream schools. This includes those from remote and rural areas, physically challenged and underprivileged children. 

But the experts argued that formal schooling is more advantageous for the overall development of the child. “Schools help in building social skills, self-esteem as children interact with peers and teachers. It also gives a sense of inclusion,” said Dr Harish Shetty, senior psychiatrist, Dr LH Hiranandani Foundation Hospital, Powai. 

Hence, the experts suggested screening of students enrolling for open schooling to prevent schools from using it as a dump for weak students.

“Although the intentions behind starting a state-level open schools are noble, the department needs to ensure that it is used only for rare cases and as a last resort,” said Shetty. “Schools should be asked to produce records that a child is not doing well in formal schooling before sending it to an open school.” 

Commenting on the issue, Father Francis Swamy, principal, St Mary’s School (ICSE), Mazgaon and joint secretary of the Archdiocesan Board of Education, said, “Earlier, schools did not want to take responsibility of students with special needs, as they feared it will bring down their SSC results. But the situation is different now.” The boar operates 150-odd schools across Mumbai. 

Swamy, who began an NIOS centre at Holy Family School, Andheri, which accommodates more than 350 students annually, said open schooling is beneficial as it provides a wide spectrum of choices to students. “I agree that formal schooling is important, but there are students who benefit from the flexibility and subject choices offered in open schooling,” he added Swamy. 

More than cities, open schooling is needed for students in rural areas, said Vasant Kalpande, former state board chairperson. “In many parts of Maharashtra, physically challenged students cannot attend regular school owing to location and lack of transport facility. Also, families are constantly on the move in search of work. Open schooling facility is a must for such students,” he added.  

He added that although the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, states that every school should study in a mainstream school, article 51(A) of the Constitution of India mentions that it is the duty of the parents to provide opportunities for education children between 6 to 14 years. It is nowhere mentioned that these ‘opportunities’ should be restricted to formal schooling.