In December 2017, the Government of Maharashtra took two decisions regarding education which have far reaching consequences. In the first week it declared that it would close down 1314 schools in the state. The Education Minister of Maharashtra justified this decision by saying that since these schools have less than 10 students, as per the Right to Education Act (RTE) provisions, the state has the right to close down such schools! He further shamelessly stated that actually as per the RTE Act, schools with less than 20 students can be closed down, which will mean closure of more than 12000 schools as per the survey conducted in 2009, but since government is concerned about primary education it has decided to shut down only around 3000 schools!
The Minister gave his assurance that the students of those schools and teachers will be taken care of since they will be accommodated in nearby schools. It is to be noted that most of the schools which are vulnerable to closure are in inaccessible tribal areas of Kolhapur, Pune, Amaravati, Satara, Nagpur, Marathwada, Gadchiroli regions. As per the RTE Act, elementary schools must be located within a distance of 1.5 kms, whereas the schools where the students will be “relocated” to will be further than 3 kms from their habitation; in some cases, as far as 8 kms. Students will have to travel over hills, cross rivers and even go through forests to reach the schools where they will be relocated. In many cases their medium of instruction will be forcibly changed.
Parents of the children of the schools are very angry with this decision since for most of the students this will mean the end of even primary education. The announcement of the Minister was followed by strong opposition to the move by academicians, teachers, students and affected people in general, who have exposed the fraud of this assurance by the Minister.
The RTE Act states that it is the right of every child in the 6-14 age groups to have access to good quality, free elementary education and it is the government’s responsibility to ensure this. The Act clearly specifies that the school should be in the neighborhood. It also specifies the duties and responsibilities of appropriate governments, local authority and parents in providing free and compulsory education.
When the RTE Act was promulgated, different leaders across political parties took credit for the Act. However we all know that neither the Central Government nor the state governments are taking the necessary steps. In Maharashtra, vacancies of tens of thousands of teachers are not being filled for several years. The District Information System of Education (DISE: 2013-14) survey of 2013-14 revealed that only 23,099 out of 1.05 lakh elementary schools (22%) were able to qualify on 10 indicators mandated under the Act.
It however must be noted that the same Maharashtra government issued a Government Resolution announcing that it will be setting up 100 schools across the state which would meet international standards which will be called Ojas and Tejas. The winter session of the Maharashtra Assembly in December 2017 cleared a bill which allows private companies to open schools in Maharashtra. In the past such permission was available only for trusts.
Both these steps clearly indicate that the Maharashtra government wants to wash its hands off the responsibility of providing even elementary education. It is a fact that secondary and higher secondary education of good quality have become unbearably expensive even for the middle strata of society. These steps will take even elementary education out of the reach of the common man.
All workers’ and peasants’ organizations, all peoples’ organizations must unitedly oppose these steps and must demand free, good quality, common and universal education up to higher secondary school for all Indian citizens as a fundamental right.