With enrolment in government schools taking a plunge, Himachal Pradesh is mulling merger of primary schools with minimal admissions in the state.
The number of children enrolled in government primary schools in the state has dropped by 2.5 lakh between 2004-05 and 2014-15, while there has been an increase of 1.75 lakh in enrolment in private schools.
The state government is planning to merge some schools with fewer admissions and provide better facilities in one school by transporting children, if required.
The government has earlier received a proposal from Mandi district regarding shutting down a couple of schools merging them in one primary school, which could be declared as a model primary school.
The government is already under immense criticism for opening and upgrading schools without considering their demand and feasibility.
In several cases, distance norms to open new schools were not followed. Now, with the enrolment taking plunge every year, the government has sought suggestions from parents and school management committees of schools with fewer enrolments.
Additional chief secretary (education) PC Dhiman said the government had put in efforts to improve the educational quality in schools. "We will find out schools located nearby and may merge them, if deemed fit," he said.
SCHOOLS WITH LESS THAN 20 STUDENTS
In Himachal, there are around 4,300 primary, 640 middle, 19 high and 3 senior secondary schools with less than 20 students.
"There are few schools where teaching, non-teaching staff is more than the students, which is unfruitful for government as well as students," retired headmaster Krishan Sharma said.
He said low-strength schools also deprived students from competitive learning, which was necessary for them, especially in today's fast-moving world.
Yearly survey conducted by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) revealed the decline in enrolment and if the trend continues, education in Himachal will slip into the hands of private schools in next ten years.
At present, there are 61% students studying in government primary schools, but if the declining trend of enrolment continues, there will be only 34% students in government primary schools in 2024-25,.
Experts who are concerned over the state's educational scenario feel that it is high time that norms were framed for merging schools with fewer enrolments. After merging schools, the state could bear the transport expenses of students from their home to school, as enshrined in the Right to Education (RTE) act.
"The census data also revealed that in coming years, the population of children will not grow at the current rate, which could further lead to fewer admissions. Therefore, instead of opening new schools, the government should adopt the cluster school or model school concept,", a government official said, requesting anonymity.
As per 2001 census data, there are 18.89 lakh children in age group of 0-14 in Himachal Pradesh, which is around 31% of the total population of the state. The population in the same age group will be around 20% (14.98 lakh) in 2026.
NUMBER OF SCHOOLS
Year 2003-04 2014-15
Primary 10,606 10,712
Total 13,925 15,299
Year 2003-04 2014-15 2021-22
schools 5.89 lakh 3.38 lakh 2.36 lakh
schools 8,000 2.43 lakh 3.42 lakh
Govt schools 89% 59% 41%
Private schools 11% 41% 59%