The model schools, started with high enthusiasm by the Tamil Nadu government, are suspected of killing neighbourhood elementary schools. With increasing admission in these schools, the school education department is resorting to deputing teachers from neighbouring schools instead of recruiting teachers.
The teachers' associations accuse the advent of model schools as being a replica of the school complex recommended in the national education policy (NEP). Whether the state needs model schools is also being questioned since education is expected to be equitable for all sections of the population.
On the other hand, the policy of mother-tongue based education is continuously getting diluted with the introduction of English medium education from the primary level in government schools.
With 5.8 lakh new students enrolling themselves in government schools after the impact of the pandemic, the government is expected to improve the infrastructure and recruitment to retain these students. Still, little has been done so far, the teachers' associations and academicians allege.
TEACHERS' SHORTAGE IN MODEL SCHOOLS
The concept of model schools to teach from kindergarten to higher secondary was conceived in 2018. The government selected a few existing schools in each district and rechristened them as model schools with additional infrastructure to compete with private schools.
Though the existing school education system has four different structures of schools, primary (from class 1-5), middle (class 1-8), high (class 6-10) and higher secondary (class 6-12) schools, much attention was diverted to model schools, which is still highly sought after.
"There has been no recruitment for the last few years, leaving a lot of vacancies in all government schools," said S Mayil, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Primary School Teachers Federation (TNPTF). The increase in retirement age of employees and teachers from 58 to 60 years due to the pandemic has not helped maintain the student-teacher ratio.
There are no teachers in primary sections of 20 of the 88 model schools.
"The education department is deputing teachers from other primary schools, leaving those schools without teachers and facing the threat of closure," Mayil added.
'WHY NEED MODEL SCHOOLS?'
Since its inception, the teachers' unions and academicians questioned the formation of model schools as they were allocated more funds and given priority. In contrast, small schools were left far behind in infrastructure developments.
Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Platform for Common School System, questions the need for model schools when every government school should be developed to ensure equitable education.
"Those students getting admission in such model schools are considered superior, and those in other government schools are treated otherwise. This is discrimination from a very young age and is not acceptable," he said.
Babu also demanded the government not to discriminate against schools and ensure an equal amount of funds is sanctioned for all government schools.
"We are being charged education cess in addition to paying tax. Despite these things, we are paying heavily for education in private schools since the governments are abandoning their schools," he alleged.
"Instead of fulfilling its constitutional promises of providing free, quality and equitable education for all, the governments are discriminating. There is a lack of laboratories, arts, crafts and physical education teachers, functional toilets, non-teaching staff and even security guards in most government schools, which need immediate attention," Babu said.
The TNPTF also accused the state government of promoting model schools detrimental to the existing schools' systems.
"We need primary, middle and high schools within 1km, 3 km and 5 km radius to ensure access to the students. The model schools are weakening the existing schools and forcing the students to travel long distances for even accessing primary education," Mayil said.
'WHY DENY MOTHER TONGUE BASED EDUCATION?'
Another question being raised of late is the state government emphasising English as the medium of education. The demand from parents is increasing for English medium education, but the government, instead of promoting mother tongue-based education, is conceding to the public mood.
"In most of the government schools, English has replaced Tamil as the medium of education. How can a child think and learn in another language? Even in the United Kingdom, schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland have their language as the medium of instruction and not English. We should follow such examples and should not crush the regional languages," Babu said.
The lack of teachers in the government schools, with both English and Tamil as the medium of education, is again hampering students and teachers.
"There are several schools in the state which don't even have one teacher/class. With this pathetic teacher-student ratio, how can the schools have two mediums of instruction?" asked Mayil.
With the student strength increasing in government schools after the pandemic, the infrastructure, particularly the number of teachers, needs massive attention.
"The finance minister has come up with a white paper on the financial status of the state recently. I urge the school education minister to come up with a similar action to bring out the exact status of the education department," Babu demanded.
The state government has announced a 20% reservation for students educated in the Tamil medium in all recruitments. But, given the current push for English medium education, the reservation seems to be of less use in the future.
"We have to understand the effectiveness of English medium education, vacancies of teachers, non-teaching staff, ministerial staff and support staff in schools. Without fulfilling these basic requirements and infrastructural needs, we cannot retain the students and cannot excel in affording equitable education to all," Babu said.