Fearing possible electoral debacle after huge public discontent, all 12 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Members of Parliament from Jharkhand, in a letter to Chief Minister Raghubar Das, have sought a moratorium on the merger of primary and secondary schools for a year in the state. The letter states that the government should stop the merger of primary schools with middle schools with immediate effect to contain the anger of the parents of the students.
Following the directives of Government of India and NITI Aayog, Jharkhand government started merging primary schools with low enrolment with middle schools to maximise resources. The students, along with teachers and other staff, are transferred to the middle school. While the government argues that it will help it in maximising the resources, the move has hit the students worst.
The decision came in the wake of similar experiments carried out in Rajasthan and Punjab. But, the merger seems to have brought in havoc for the students living in hilly and remote areas. The merger of more than 6,000 schools in the past two years have enraged the parents from the state, who allege that the move is depriving their children from accessing education.
Alleging non-consultation from the district administrations, the parents say that the hilly terrain and forest areas are too dangerous for children to cross to reach the schools. The resentment can be gauged from the fact that the residents of Dasadih village of Dumaria block, Ghatshila subdivision in Jamshedpur observed a four-day fast to compel the district administration to reverse the decision. But, after getting no response from the officials, they decided to stop sending their children to schools
They allege that the new school is not only far from the village, but the students are required to cross a drain to reach there. The drain swells in the rainy season, and many children, who were drowning, have been rescued in the previous years.
Apart from parents, the para-teachers of the state are also protesting the move. They have alleged that the move is in contravention with the provisions of the Right to Education Act, which mandates a school within the radius of one kilometre.
They also claimed that the state government has not assured para-teachers about their future. Sanjay Kumar Pandey, a teacher in West Singhbhum district, said, "Para-teachers started teaching in schools with a meager salary of Rs 1,500. Nowadays, they are being paid Rs 9,500 which is much below the satisfactory level. The mergers have now a put question on the future of para teachers. Will they be relocated or asked to leave."
Talking to Newsclick, veteran educationist Anita Rampal said the state governments have been repeating the rhetoric about "maximising the resources". She said, "It is absurd to say that the state government are maximising resources when the students are not getting good quality education, which is their constitutional right, in the schools."
The move is also feared to have triggered the drop-out rates to a new high in India's one of the least literate states. As per the 2011 census, Jharkhand remained at the 31st spot in 36 states and union territories with a literacy rate of 67.63 per cent. It must be reminded that the state reached 67.63 literacy rate in 2011 by registering 12 per cent increase from 53.56 per cent in 2001. But, it may not achieve similar increase if the current scenario of the dropping out persists.
Jharkhand is also among the league of states where drop out is higher in both categories: overall drop-out rate and the drop-out rate among the Scheduled Tribes (ST). School Education in India 2014-15 report clearly shows that 9.31 per cent students from the ST community dropped out from schools in 2013.