Sunday, November 09, 2014

Right to education? Gujarat government "decides" to discontinue tent schools in Little Rann of Kutch

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government is learnt to have decided to wind up 29 schools, operating in tents in the wide expanse of the Little Rann of Kutch, envisaged way back in late 1990s and operating over the last 14 years in order to facilitate children of the saltpan workers to study. Director, primary education, RC Rawal, according to well-informed sources, has told the district primary education officers (DPEOs) of five districts which surround the Rann – Kutch, Rajkot, Surendranagar, Patan and Banaskantha – that in 2014-15 “no funds have been allocated for the tent schools, hence these cannot be supported anymore.”
While the DPEOs are waiting for a written communiqué about this from Gandhinagar, sources said, the schools, which were under operation with the help of non-government organizations (NGOs) working in the Rann among the saltpan workers, haven’t yet begun, despite the fact saltpan workers with their families, including children, have already reached the Rann and begun cultivating salt in the Rann. “The saltpan workers are keeping their fingers crossed: Will they be able to send their children to study?”, a senior activist said.
The whole idea of having schools in the Little Rann was floated in late 1990s by Gantar, a child rights NGO operating in Gujarat. It began experimenting with makeshift schools in the Little Rann to showcase why it was important that schools go where children reach. The idea floated then, which later became a policy decision, was that these schools should maintain continuity in education of the children once their parents migrate for six to eight months to the Rann to cultivate salt, so that there was no break in their education.
When contacted, Pankti Jog of the Agariya Hit Rakshak Manch (AHRM), which works among the saltpan workers of the Rann, told Counterview that AHRM’s activists have been told by district officials that tent schools would “cease to exist”, and instead buses would ply between the saltpans and the schools bordering the Rann to take children and bring them back. “We have been also told that the government has allocated Rs 250 per month per child as transportation. This amount is very little, no bus operator would agree”, she said.
“We think that the decision will render the educational future of 1,100 children of the Little Rann of Kutch in jeopardy”, Jog said, adding, “No bus owner is ready to operate at this price, especially when some of the saltpan sites are situated as far away as 80 km from the villages where the children will be taken. We have been told that the buses would pick up children from a particular point, and not from the doorsteps, which is not convenient for the saltpan workers.”
Jog further said, “This is a clear violation of the right to education (RTE) Act, under which the school has to be within reach of the children. While the RTE provides for transportation in case the school is more than two kilometers, providing a mere Rs 250 per child, if true, is totally unacceptable. Besides, it will take at least an hour for children to reach the schools and another hour to return. Will the parents tolerate this?”
Meanwhile, Sukhdev Patel, convener of the Gujarat chapter of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), who ran Gantar before joining politics last year, told Counterview that it would be all right for upper primary standard children to study in schools away from their parents, even live in hostels, but as for lower primary level “this does not seem feasible… One has to see how things develop. Majority of schools is situated in about 15 to 20 km vicinity of the saltpans, so if the buses are provided free of cost, there should not be a problem.”

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