Lucknow: The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government has ordered a "shutdown" of all Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBV) residential schools for under-privileged girls in the state and has asked the administration to give temporary admission to students in upper primary schools, citing ongoing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UP government has also asked all wardens to ensure that students who have not been enrolled in new classes this year be enrolled in upper primary schools (VI to VIII), who will then be taught through e-pathshalas. "Due to closure of all Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas, the UP government has decided to provide temporary admissions for the academic session 2020-21 to students in local upper primary schools," the order by Basic Shiksha Adhikari, Lucknow reads. However, the notice does not mention the reason for 'closure' of KGBVs.
Another order issued by Vijay Kiran Anand, director general of School Education and state project director of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, has asked all basic shiksha adhikaris (BSAs) to admit KGBV students to the next class in local upper primary schools and commence classes through e-pathshala. “Students can’t come to their schools to take admissions in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. So these girls need to be enrolled for next classes. Post their enrolment, we will begin digital classes for them. We want to make KGBV students to set examples in a particular block and district,” Anand said.
These exclusively residential schools for girls were established in 2004 to ensure access to quality education to the girls belonging predominantly to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and minority communities in educationally backwards blocks. The KGBVs have classes from 6 to 12.
According to the website of KGBV, the scheme under which the schools were established was subsequently enlarged and extended further to cover the Educationally Backward Blocks that have rural female literacy below 30%. In this scheme, there is provision for residential facility and other academic support to be provided to the girl students enrolled mainly from the dropped-out section in the areas concerned. The programme aimed at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education is jointly funded by the Centre and the state on 60:40 sharing basis.
However, the government’s decision to shift the students to upper primary school has drawn flak in several districts like Mirzapur, Sonbhadra, Chandauli in UP, where these schools play an important role in the education of dalit and tribal girls.
The students and their parents have opposed the move and refused to enroll in the local schools. Several dalit rights organisations have also expressed fears about the bleak future of their children after closing of the residential girls' schools and alleged that this decision is an act of prejudice by the government against their community.
The sudden imposition of the countrywide lockdown had forced the thousands of KGBV students, who had gone to their homes after the completion of final exams, to remain at home. Close to 75,000 students are enrolled in 746 KGBVs.
Preeti Singh, a teacher of Home Science at KGBV Saharanpur, told NewsClick, "Since government has ordered to enroll all girls to upper primary schools, they will not be able to avail free books, uniform, food and other essential commodities. Apart from this, KGBV also gives Rs 1,200 per month to the students. Further, the adolescent girls have also been deprived of their additional food supplements which were fulfilling their nutritional needs.”
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The students, too, are unwilling to get enrolled in local upper primary schools, NewsClick has learnt. Some students said they were concerned about their safety in these schools. They are also concerned about being deprived of scholarship and nutritional food that they were getting at KGBV.
Parul, a student of KGBV, who recently passed 8th class and was supposed to enroll in the 9th standard, said she will not go to any local primary school as she does not like the unwelcome atmosphere. "For me, KGBV is the best school because of safety, and we get everything free of cost. When the district administration can arrange e-pathshala in local schools, why can't same arrangement be made in our residential school?" she said.
Kajal, another student, echoed similar sentiments and said she won't take 'temporary admission' in any local primary school. "We come from the dalit community and tribal societies, and for us, KGBV is a better option in every aspect. We get full attention in terms of education, food and lifestyle but I heard teachers discriminate dalit students in primary schools," she said, adding that she had heard that dalit students were forced to sit separately during meals in primary school.
Several students have also claimed that they were not getting their monthly scholarship of Rs 1,200 per month in the last five months.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Workers Front has termed the state government as anti-dalit over the issue. "The RSS-BJP government of the state wants to keep the children belonging to Scheduled castes, tribes, backward classes away from education," Jitendra Dhangar, a dalit activist and member of UPWF told NewsClick. He said: "The government could have arranged online education in these schools, but instead of providing facilities, they are currently shutting down schools."
"In these residential schools, about Rs 60 is spent on each child's daily diet. Over the past five months, not a single rupee has been utilised due to the closure of the schools," he added.
Teachers Fearing Layoffs
Satish Kumar, sangathan mantri or joint secretary of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Employees Welfare Association, Uttar Pradesh, who also teaches Mathematics in Azamgarh told NewsClick, "They are shifting students to upper primary school so that they can show the government that no educational activities are taking place in KGBV during the pandemic. We are taking online classes as per the rule. Basically, the government wants to demotivate teachers of KGBV. This decision is likely to be followed by brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. This is the agenda behind enrolling students in upper primary school.” He said over 6,000 teachers are associated with KGBVs across the state, and over 50% teachers may lose their jobs after this shift. Kumar further said that there had been no directive regarding the resumption of hostel function since their closure in March following lockdown guidelines.
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Preeti Singh, the warden of the KGBV in Saharanpur, said, "The government is not directly closing schools. But it has been learned that 75% teachers will lose their jobs for sure.”
She said: “The government is pressuring teachers working for 15-20 years to do full-time duty. If a teacher works full time, he will have to stay in school. But male teachers are not allowed to stay in girls' residential schools. In this way, the government will terminate male teachers.”
According to Singh, as per government order, a KGBV teacher is supposed to teach four subjects -- Hindi, English, Mathematics, Science. But every teacher has his own potential and he/she can not be perfect in every subject. The government has also decided to remove teachers who can not teach all four subjects, he alleged.
Another teacher said that the Adityanath government had been trying to shut down the KGBVs in Uttar Pradesh and this was the first step.
Speaking to NewsClick, Satish Prakash, an associate professor of physics at Meerut University and a dalit rights thinker, said that this is nothing new. “The RSS-backed UP government always attacks institutions of Muslims and dalits. The order to shift students from KGBV to local schools for e-pathshala is questionable. How many girl students have access to smartphones and can avail online classes?" he said, adding that this move by the government was an eyewash.