In a crackdown on protesting aspirants for recruitment under the next round of Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teacher (REET) examinations, the Jaipur City Police arrested a dozen activists of the Students' Federation of India (SFI) who have been waging a struggle to increase the number of seats to 50,000 for the previous 70 days across the state. The activists were later released after a mass outrage with spontaneous protests taking place in different cities of the state late in the evening.
The Board of Secondary Education, Rajasthan, had invited applications to fill up vacancies of grade III teachers in December 2019. After much delay, the government added that it would increase the number of seats considering the reservation provision for Economically Weaker Sections and Special teachers for blind students. The protesters maintain that the state lost 10,000 teachers in the last three years after they retired from their services.
To support their argument, Mahendra Sharma, Vice President, SFI Rajasthan, told NewsClick that the state government currently has 63,033 vacant grade III seats for teachers. The state needs teachers on these posts at the earliest.
"We are observing that the pandemic hit families economically so bad that they had to survive on ration distributed through public distribution system literally. It also resulted in higher enrolment in government schools. In the last two sessions alone, we witnessed that 10 lakh new students alone registered in the government schools pushing the number of total students to 99 Lakh. If we do not have enough teachers in the schools, these students will be deprived of quality education."
Sharma added that the government should also look at the meteoric rise in unemployment in the state. The situation is so bad that over 26 lakh aspirants appeared for the eligibility test for teaching conducted by the Board of Secondary Education, and 11 lakh candidates qualified for jobs. Rajasthan follows a two-layer system of examinations; first, the students need to pass the eligibility test for becoming a teacher. After the second examination, the board releases the merit list of candidates who may join as teachers.
"These candidates put a lot of effort in qualifying these tests. The poor students who did not have enough money mortgaged their houses for arranging money for coaching, and the government is saying that it cannot give them a decent job. What sort of mental thuggery is this!"
SFI State President Subhash Jakhar told NewsClick that the elected representatives are also feeling the heat of protest by the aspirants. Over 70 MLAs and five advisors to the Gehlot government have written to increase the number of posts from the existing 31,000 to 50,000.
" The Government revised the scheduled exams three times and allowed different sections to be included in exams for jobs. So the post-strength has been determined on the requirement in 2019, but the posts are being filled in 2022. our protest at Shaheed Smark in Jaipur was forcefully evicted only because we had given a call to gherao the chief minister's house on January 7. The government is not feeling the urgency of the situation. The state is ranked second in terms of total unemployment in the country. We are at 16th position in overall indices in education. How does the CM think can situation improve without increasing the number of posts."
As per the unemployment data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy on January 6, 2022, Rajasthan has a 27.1% unemployment rate, only lower than Haryana, where the unemployment rate was measured at 34.1%.
Jakhar added that the state lost 22,000 schools owing to rationalisation suggested by NITI Aayog for the closure of small schools for better efficiency. In July 2017, the Ministry of Education wrote a letter to states with guidelines for "rationalisation of small schools across the States for better efficiency". The letter suggested that the guidelines were prepared by the Prime Minister's review along with follow up points of Niti Aayog. Later, Niti Aayog roped in states for making school education better.
Reflecting upon the closure, He said, "Imagine the level of casualty done to school education through these closures. We may find good schools in divisional headquarters and cities, but the situation worsens as we move to Tribal regions."
Ashok Agarwal, a renowned Right to Education Activist who petitioned the Jaipur High Court for its intervention over the absurd condition of schools, told NewsClick that his team found students pursuing education under open sky because enrolled students could not be accommodated in old and dilapidated classrooms with literally no teachers.
"Among many examples we can cite, we found that Government Middle School Jeerheda, Tehsil Kama of Bharatpur District run from classes 1-8 having an enrollment of as many as 526 students (261 girls and 265 boys). Two hundred ninety-one students were present at the time of visit. Against 11 sanctioned posts of teachers, only four teachers have been posted in the school, and on the day of the visit, two out of four had gone for vaccination duty. In another school, we found that 400 students had only one source of drinking water; a handpump. This is a violation of the fundamental right to education of thousands of students belonging to lower strata of society as guaranteed to them under Articles 14, 21, 21-A and 38 of Constitution of India read with the provisions of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 as much as all students were studying in horrible conditions in the absence of basic physical infrastructure and shortage of teachers."