Despite massive protests, the YS Jaganmohan Reddy government is going ahead with the merger of government schools, causing heartburn and anger among parents and teachers in the state.
Parents and students of Mandal Parishat Primary School, in Jammu, in the Vizianagaram district, recently locked the gates protesting the merging of classes 3-4-5 with that of a nearby high school.
The Mandal Parishat Primary School, located close to the colonies of migrant labourers, has 120 students, a rare achievement for any government school in rural areas. With hard work and stupendous efforts of the headmaster, teachers and the public, the school has become the pride of the district.
The school, however, has been mapped for merging under the pretext of implementing the New Education Policy 2020. If the government were to merge the 3, 4 and 5 classes with a nearby high school, agitating parents alleged, the students would have to travel more than a kilometre and cross the busy National Highway to reach it. Additionally, housing just the remaining 1 and 2 classes, the strength of the school would drop drastically.
While some parents are anxious about kids travelling to another school located in a faraway colony. parents of class 1 and 2 fear the decreased strength of the school may lead to its closure.
Stating that they would not allow their local school to disappear, protestors occupied the school and locked the gates. Jammu is not the only place where defiant parents joined hands with the teachers to prevent the merger of primary schools with high schools. Demonstrations were held in dozens of schools mapped for the merger across the state.
A primary school in Kadapa district, after the merger of classes 3, 4 and 5 with a nearby high school, has been left with just three students.
A lively primary school in Chinna Kondru Padu village in Guntur district wears almost a deserted look, after the migration of classes 3, 4 and 5 to a nearby high school. Earlier, it had 155 students on its rolls. With 3, 4 and 5 classes gone, the school strength has fallen to a mere six.
Schools that have been given a face-lift with huge expenditure last year are becoming redundant as they are left with just five to six children. Will it be viable to run schools with such miniscule numbers? Will parents favour such schools? asked teachers, who spoke to The Federal.
Closure of 33,183 primary schools
The government is planning to close 33,183 primary schools in the state. All these schools will be merged with anganwadis and high schools in a phased manner. More than 5,000 schools have been identified this academic year which commenced on July 5. The merger means dividing the school into two units, consisting of classes 1 and 2 and the second unit will house classes 3, 4 and 5. The merger of 3, 4 and 5 with nearby high schools is on.
The unit of 1 and 2 classes will be clubbed with anganwadi centre to make it a Foundational School later.
Reluctant teachers are under pressure to issue TCs to students of 3, 4 and 5 classes to enable them to get admitted to high schools. With the proposed merger of 33,813 primary schools and 4,158 upper primary schools, 14 lakh kids are expected to quit schools in their own colonies and walk to a high school in another locality or village.
The parents of children of 1 and 2 classes are losing interest in the school as the numbers dwindle. A school teacher said every school is losing six to seven students to private schools. At a time when the academic year is supposed to start with a bang with schemes like Ammavodi, Gorumuddha, Vidya Kanuka, Nadu Nedu and English medium, education in the state has suffered an unexpected jolt.
And, this comes in the wake of the government schools’ poor performance in AP SSC exams last month.
Government schools – a solid vote bank
Upon assuming office, Chief Minister Jagan thought improving the conditions in government schools would create a guaranteed vote bank for the party and flagged off many schemes. But, it looks like his plans are going awry.
Targeting more than a crore voters, first, he launched Ammavodi, a scheme to provide ₹15,000 cash assistance a year to every family of school-going children in 2019. The money would be deposited in the accounts of 44 lakh mothers. Later, through Gorumuddha, the insipid sambar-rice midday meal has been made delicious with a menu that changes every day. Then he launched Nadu-Nedu, a scheme to equip schools with corporate-level infrastructures such as modern toilets, water filters and digital classrooms etc., to lure students.
Under Vidya Kanuka, a kit containing textbooks, shoes, uniforms etc, will be gifted to each student at the beginning of the academic year.
All the schemes did make the government schools physically attractive and enrolment went up phenomenally. COVID too pushed the enrolments up. According to officials, an additional strength of 7 lakh students had enrolled in the government schools taking their share to 60 per cent of the total students in the state.
Poor performance of government schools
Members of the teachers’ associations, however, alleged that despite the launch of these schemes, steps were not taken to improve the academic standard.
While the additional strength of students distorted the teacher-pupil ratio, thousands of vacancies of subject teachers badly affected academic standards. The situation was compounded by the promotion of students without exams due to COVID. This is the reason for the dismal performance by government schools in the recently held SSC exams with just 67.26 (4.14 lakh students) per cent passing the exams, the lowest in about two decades.
Of the 6.15 lakh students, who appeared for the exams held in April-May, as many as 2 lakh failed and 71 schools secured zero. The poor outcome tarnished the image of government schools forcing the teaching community to vociferously demand that teachers’ vacancies should be filled up.
Recruiting teachers, however, is impossible given the precarious finances of the state. Jagan’s government has found a way out by merging schools.
According to V Balasubramanyam, an MLC representing the teachers and leader of PDF in the state legislative council, the government is hell-bent on avoiding recruiting teachers. The government is also not concerned about the massive dislocation of the students and decline of quality in teaching, which are caused by the school mergers.
“Instead of filling 25,000 vacancies to serve the growing strength of students, the government is showing another 15,000 teaching posts as surplus through the restructuring of schools. This effectively means reducing the teaching strength by 40,000. To bridge this gap, the government is planning to entrust the teaching to Byju’s,” alleged V Balasubramanyam.
Somarauthu Srinivasa Rao, president of Progressive Municipal Teachers’ Federation, said the neighbourhood school concept was devised to take education to the doorstep of people and overcome the educational backwardness of the state.
“The merger of schools will defeat the goal. Parents will not send their wards to far-off schools. This may either lead to dropouts, especially of girls or divert them to private schools,” Rao told The Federal. This move is an attempt to weaken the teaching community, which openly opposed the pay revision commission’s recommendations, said Rao.
The members of the ruling YSRC too are concerned. Fearing a negative political outcome of such a move, 60 MLAs from the party wrote to the education minister against implementing the merger in a hurry.
“A lot of goodwill is generated after the implementation of Ammavodi, Gorumuddha, Vidya Kanuka and Nadu–Nedu schemes. People are opting for government schools. Jagan has made education the main feature of governance. This should not be derailed. When the Assembly elections are just two years away, nothing should be done to jeopardise the party’s prospects,” said a YSRC MLA, who did not want to be quoted.
TDP MP K Ramamohan Naidu raised the issue in Lok Sabha invoking rule 377 seeking the Centre’s intervention to stop the merger of schools in the state.
“The state government is destroying school education in the name of NEP 2020. No such destructive recommendation was made by NEP or RTE. I urge the Centre to stop the mindless merger,” Naidu said.
Meanwhile, state officials feel students have no option but to travel to high schools irrespective of the traffic and distance if they want good education. The opposition to the proposal is negligible, they feel.
Education Minister Botsa Satyanarayana is also in no mood to relent. Clarifying that no school will be closed down after the merger, he said, mergers are all set to continue. “Officials have been instructed not to close any school,” he told the media. But, his statement is far from reassuring for parents and teachers in the state.