HYDERABAD: There are as many as 916 government schools in Telangana without teachers and students. This startling fact came to light in a recent survey (2019-20) conducted by the Telangan education department which is already facing flak in the Supreme Court where a petition is being heard on forcible closure of around 2,000 government schools in the name of rationalisation in the last three years.

Of the total 25,131 schools in Telangana, a whopping 20,000 have enrolment with less than 100 students. This data shows there are some schools where students in each class (first to fifth) are less than 15 or even 10. Already, in such schools, the government has relocated teachers and students to nearby schools, in the name of rationalisation, which has drawn criticism from different quarters.

Of course, there is another extreme! There are 22 government schools where there are more than 1,000 students enrolled. Interestingly, these schools are in major towns or closer to cities where a large number of teachers are on job. Afraid of losing their schools on account of poor enrolment, these teachers had seen to it that their schools enrolled more students. This is a paradoxical situation.

This latest dose of information revealed an ironical situation that even the teachers from remote and interior areas were not willing to be in schools nearby their villages or hamlets. They too, after securing jobs, want to migrate to urban areas and towns for a better living, leaving the schools in their respective areas without teachers. Obviously, students, too, are avoiding such understaffed schools in their villages.

The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has been consistently working to see that schools in remote and interior areas shall not be closed or understaffed or with low student enrolment. There are enough schemes at the national level including the funds-rich Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) which takes care of recruitment of teachers and facilities in government schools all over the country.

Even the Right to Education Act (RTA) that came into effect from 2010 mandates filling up of teachers’ posts in remote and interior areas which are mostly neglected over the years by preferring local candidates so that they can work in those schools. However, ironically, such teachers, after getting a government job, want to transfer to schools in urban areas or close to towns.

Sources in the Telangana education department told this newspaper on the condition of anonymity that the zero enrolment of students and absence of teachers have thrown a challenge to the government to run schools in such areas. “The only option left to us is to close these schools and relocate teachers and students to nearby schools,” a district educational officer familiar with the survey said.

However, this move is fraught with two consequences—first, it goes against the spirit of the RTA which says that primary schools should be available to the students within 2 km from their village, and, secondly, it goes against the assurances given by the government before the apex court which is hearing a petition on relocating government schools, in the name of rationalisation.

As migrating to private schools is the only alternative to these rural students, poverty-ridden parents in the long run might have to withdraw their children from schools and that might lead to a higher dropout rate, thus scuttling the government’s goal of making India a cent percent literate country by 2022 or 2024. Higher dropout rates will also lead to higher unemployment rate and social unrest. The survey pointed out that there are 3,445 upper primary schools with less than 15 students, while 14,138 schools are with less than 100 students. Similarly, of the total 4,635 high schools, as many as 22 schools are with less than 15 students, while 1,397 schools with less than 100 students. The education department is awaiting the orders of the SC to deal with these schools.

Experts are divided over the remedial measures. Former MLC from teachers’ constituency Chukka Ramaiah told this newspaper that the half-hearted moves on the part of the government were responsible for this present situation. Transferring teachers from remote areas to semi-urban areas or close to towns was the main reason for this drop in enrolment in schools. M. Venkateswarlu, ex-consultant in the education department of combined Andhra Pradesh, too, felt that no school should be closed or shifted on account of zero enrolment or absence of teachers. Efforts must be made to see that the schools are run with part-time teachers or qualified retired teachers so that enrolment would be better in coming years.

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