School mergers, privatisation: Rajasthan’s education reforms fail to hit bullseye
Measures initiated by the Rajasthan government to overhaul the education system are plagued with lack of teachers and a high drop-out rate.Updated: Oct 18, 2017 12:16 IST
In the congested bylanes of Jaipur’s Haji Colony stands a government primary school with 121 students on its rolls. Classes 1 to 5 run in a single enclosure that looks more like a marketplace than a classroom. The establishment has no toilet or drinking water facility.
Though this establishment was merged with another senior secondary school in the vicinity in 2014, it continues to function in the same cramped space. The reason? The students are too young, and cannot possibly travel two kilometres every day to attend classes.
“We initially started taking classes at the new place, but not a single child turned up for over a week,” says Savitri Kumawat, one of the two teachers at the school. A similar merger of two higher secondary schools was executed at Bas Badanpura in Jaipur, but it gave rise to a different kind of problem. “We ended up with 85 students in Class 1,” says principal Paramjeet Kaur. “We tried to resolve the issue in a couple of ways, including dividing the class in two sections and teaching them separately in the same space, but nothing seemed to work,” Kaur added. Now, they have reverted to the single-class arrangement. To address the student-population problem, one faculty member does the teaching, while another strolls around the place providing individual guidance.
Hits and misses
The BJP government in Rajasthan has initiated many education reforms, such as school mergers, staff rationalisation and creation of Adarsh schools, since 2014. It also reintroduced examinations in Classes 3, 5 and 8 after parents claimed that the ban on examinations till Class 8 was affecting students’ studies. Parent-teacher meetings were organised at government academic establishments, and philanthropists were actively roped in to develop school infrastructure.
Some of the efforts were slammed. The school syllabus was extensively revised, but detractors dubbed it as an attempt to saffronise education. While social science textbooks eulogised VD Savarkar for his role in the Independence struggle, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were pushed to the sidelines.
Critics say the reforms are exclusionary towards certain school students. Supporters claim these measures are sorely needed, and have the potential to overhaul the system.
Government schools in Rajasthan are plagued by poor quality of education, low enrolments, high drop out rate, few teachers and schools in remote areas, lack of infrastructure, and staff absenteeism.
Teacher transfers had become a political industry, with teachers bribing the authorities to bag postings in choice locations.
According to the 2011 Census, Rajasthan’s literacy rate is 66.11% as compared to the national average of 74.04%. Male literacy stands at 79.19%, and female literacy at a mere 52.12%.
School education minister Vasudev Devnani says staff rationalisation has improved the availability of teachers in rural areas, and transfers are being conducted on the basis of counselling. However, a transfer policy promised by the government is yet to be put in place.
Under the merger policy, the state government shut schools with low enrolment and shifted their students to nearby establishments for “better utilisation of resources (including teachers)”. Primary schools with a student count of less than 15 and upper primary schools with fewer than 30 were targeted.
Around 17,000 of over 80,000 government schools in the state were merged as part of the first phase.
Devnani says better management in these schools has led to a 17% increase in enrolment across all classes, and the pass percentage has risen from 66% to 78% in Class 10 and 81% to 84% in Class 12. However, ground problems persist. Many schools still suffer from lack of adequate staff and infrastructure.
Data with the secondary education department in Bikaner shows there is an overall shortage of 13,932 teachers at Adarsh schools across the state (despite their claim to being model institutions). Besides this, school mergers have forced children to drop out. “Multiple factors – including caste and communal issues, distance of the merged school, and change in timings – are responsible for this,” says Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti member Komal Srivastava. “For instance, it becomes difficult for Dalit children to attend school when educational institutions in their neighbourhood are merged with those in upper-caste localities. Many female students from conservative families also drop out when girls schools are merged with co-ed ones.”
How Adarsh are these schools?
The Rajasthan government announced that it would develop one educational institution in each of the 9,895 gram panchayats across the state as an Adarsh school in a phased manner. These schools would have adequate teachers and all necessary infrastructural facilities, and double as mentor schools and resource centres for other institutions in the locality. Last year, the government had developed 2,680 institutions as Adarsh schools in the first phase. Another 3,097 have been developed in 2017.
However, regardless of their flattering title, many of these schools are anything but model institutions.
For instance, 11 of the 16 teaching posts at the Adarsh senior secondary school in Gangasara lie vacant. Five teachers handle 12 classes with a combined student strength of 287. Classes are often held under trees for lack of classrooms.
Another Adarsh senior secondary school at the Madoni gram panchayat in Bharatpur district has neither benches nor drinking water facilities.
The privatisation dilemma
The government’s plan to launch schools in public-private partnership (PPP) mode has drawn accusations of unnecessary commercialisation.
“Providing education and health care is the state’s responsibility,” Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot told HT. “Why do we need PPP when the government claims enrolment and quality of education has already improved?”
Devnani, however, said only 300 schools located in small towns and villages will be developed on the PPP model with an aim to improve the quality of education. “We won’t be giving any Adarsh schools or district-level schools to private players,” he clarified.
Ram Krishan Agarwal of the All Rajasthan School Teachers’ Union claimed the PPP model would deny educational opportunities to children from Dalit and minority communities. “What’s more, the government will be giving away property worth crores to private agencies,” he said. “Instead, it should focus on teaching quality and learning outcomes. The question of proper implementation still remains.”