Odisha govt defends school mergers; oppn alleges denial of right to education

Odisha govt defends  school mergers; oppn alleges denial of right to education Picture used for representational purpose only (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Press Trust of India | Nov 23, 2020 - 10:12 a.m. IST
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BHUBANESWAR: The Odisha government on Sunday informed the assembly that there was no "illegality" in merging of schools with low enrolment, while the opposition BJP and Congress alleged that children were being deprived of their rights to education due to closure of such institutes.

The issue of "closure of schools" was discussed after government Chief Whip Pramila Mallik moved a motion in this regard. Speaker S N Patro had on Saturday said there will be a discussion on Sunday after opposition parties created pandemonium leading to multiple adjournments of the House on the issue.

During the day-long discussion, School and Mass Education Minister S R Dash defended the decision of merging schools and said that the government has no intention to inconvenience students by closing down schools, but it is working towards imparting quality education to pupils.

He said that there are less than 40 students in 14,382 schools. However, the process of merger of 7,772 institutes is being carried out. Among them, 1,724 schools have less than 25 students and 6,048 others have less than 20 students, he said.

If a school in a scheduled area has less than 15 students, it will be merged with another nearby school while in non-scheduled areas, the exercise is being carried out if the student strength of a school is less than 20, the minister said.

Rejecting allegations raised by the opposition that over 14,000 schools will be closed in the process of merger, Dash said that the figure is 7,772. "The exact number of schools to be closed due to merger may further come down because of the change in the norms in both the scheduled and non-scheduled areas," he said.

After the merger of schools, each affected student will be provided one-time financial assistance of Rs 3,000 and another Rs 600 per month towards escort allowance according to the provision of the Right to Education Act, he said.

Referring to arguments by several members that some students may have to cross rivers and forests to reach their new schools post-merger, Dash said that the government will consider the geographical condition of an area while deciding on closing down a school.

Government Chief Whip Pramila Mallick said that there are many schools that have two teachers for only eight students. Such schools will continue to run if the number of students increases, she said.

Congress Legislature Party leader Narasingha Mishra said, "Closure of schools in the name of merger will lead to denial of many students' right to education. There will be a breach of their fundamental rights." He said that the government has changed its norms to close down schools in scheduled and non-scheduled areas, but it has not taken the backward KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir- Kalahandi) region into consideration.

Deputy Leader of Opposition BC Sethi of the BJP said that the decision of the government will have serious consequences. "We will stage a sit-in near the podium of the Speaker until rollback of the decision (of merger of schools)," he said.

Congress MLA Tara Prasad Bahinipati had also threatened to commit suicide in front of the Speaker if the state government did not withdraw the decision. Ruling BJD member P K Deb, however, preferred to shift the blame on the Central Government.

"The Niti Aayog has made recommendations for merger of schools in 2017. The National Education Policy also recommends it. So, BJP members should go through the national policy before making any allegation against the state," Deb said.

Odisha is not the lone state which is undertaking the process of school merger, a senior BJD MLA said adding that the states like Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan have also adopted the same process to bring reforms in the education system

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