During the ongoing monsoon session of the state legislation in Himachal Pradesh, Education Minister Suresh Bharadwaj had issued a written reply to a query by the BJP MLA Ramesh Dhawala about the decrease in enrolment in primary and secondary education in the state.
It was noted that throughout the state, 5,718 government schools were observed with an average student rate (primary and secondary) of 20 and below. Education Ministry is yet to reach a conclusion on whether the schools with average student rate of less than 20 should be shut down or not. In a surprising “democratic” stint by the saffron party, it has asked the public (through the Ministry) for their opinion on the same.
Interestingly, out of the total 5,718 schools with 0 to 20 students, primary schools account for 4,754 and the remaining 964 are secondary schools with the lowest average of students noted in district Shimla among 988 primary schools and 245 secondary schools.
Policies of both, the previous Congress and the present BJP Government, with respect to primary and secondary education have been the same in the state. With dearth teachers, lack of proper classrooms and basic amenities, people are discouraged from sending their children to schools. Those, who can afford it, send their children to private schools.
Sanjay Chauhan, former mayor and member of the CPI(M), told Newsclick: “What is the difference between the policies of the governments of the Congress and the BJP? Earlier, one government would not recruit teachers, and then would cite low admission rates in primary schools as the reason to shut down schools, and now the BJP government is doing the same.”
He added, “There are no teachers in the schools. Do not recruit doctors and staff in the hospital, do not recruit employees in the departments, then say that there are no children in the school, no patients in the hospital, so we should shut them down. Why? So that people can get over-expensive education and health through private sector which the poor cannot afford? If the government understands and fulfils its own duties, people will automatically come.”
Another perturbing factor is the wide gap between the enrolment in the government schools and in the private schools. Of the total enrolment of 5,78,781 and 3,50,519 students in lower primary and upper primary schools respectively, as on September 30, 2017, the enrolment in government schools is 3,02,813 and 2,14,845. There has been a drop of 23.7 per cent in the enrolment in government’s lower primary schools. The enrolment in the upper primary schools has come down from 79.4 per cent to 55.7 per cent over 10 years even though the number of privately managed schools was less than 2,800 compared to 15,400 government primary and upper primary schools.
Running behind schedule in filling the posts of teachers in government schools by July 31, 2018, as per the orders of the High Court, the Education Department is not only racing against time, but is also facing hurdles – reportedly because of the politicians. The Department has recruited 400 Trained Graduate Teachers (TGTs), but their postings are allegedly being delayed due to political pressure.
Expressing concern over the lack of staff in the government schools, Himachal Pradesh High Court on Wednesday directed the principal secretary (education) to file an affidavit, furnishing the information regarding number of posts lying vacant, subject-wise, in the schools. The court further directed him to furnish details of the number of posts for which the request has been sent to the Himachal Pradesh Staff Selection Commission, along with the time period within which the remaining vacancies will be filled.
At a time when the government’s education minister is concerned with whether the schools should be shut down or not, Himachal Pradesh High Court’s directions to deal with the issue of postings comes as a rescue for the students of Government Senior Secondary School, Deoghari, Mandi, who had written to the High Court regarding the unavailability of the staff in their school. They had also alleged that for the last 11 years, no mathemeatics teacher and for the last 3 years, no science teacher has been posted in their school. The Division Bench comprising the acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sandeep Sharma treated the letter as a PIL, and took the petition suo motu.
Rakesh Singha, CPI(M) MLA from Theog in district Shimla, said, “The government’s focus on education is open for people to observe. They believe in shutting down schools rather than rectifying the problem. With government schools in such a dilapidated condition, where will the poor send their children? The situation is the same in other states also; whether it’s MP, Rajasthan or Haryana. If we look into the funds allocated by the Centre to education, it is not even four per cent.” He further stated that his party will continue to fight against the neoliberal policies of the BJP and the Congress.