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Amidst Odisha govt 'mission' to close 6,340 schools, 21,000 teachers' posts lie vacant

By Anjan Pradhan*

Even though the Odisha government has reportedly been focusing on posting of teachers in all primary and secondary schools on priority, nearly 25 per cent elementary schools in the State botched to meet the teacher norms mandated under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, as per the Niti Aayog’s School Education Quality Index (SEQI) report 2019.
When there should be an embarking upon filling up the posts of teachers, which is crucial to impart quality education in the classroom, the state government is irrepressible in its mission to close 6,340 schools in the state.
The schools will be permanently closed where the strengths of children are less than 20 students, a notification issued in March by the State School and Mass Education department over implementation guidelines for the policy of rationalization and consolidation of schools has revealed.
Correspondingly, more than 21,000 teacher position in government-run schools at primary level is lying vacant, as per the report of the department, which is a causative factor for increased drop out or out-of-school rate among children, especially in rural Odisha.
This has indirectly contributed towards sharp rise in number of students opting for private schools in the state. As per the state government report, there were 5,088 private schools in 2014-15 in the state but it increased to 6,547 in 2017-18. This 17% rise indicates there is an avenue for them.
“Wide-ranging dearth of teachers has repugnantly contrived learning at government-run schools in Odisha. This has also disproportionately hit the education of underprivileged and poor children of the state,” said Ruchi Kashyap, executive trustee of the Atmashakti Trust, an NGO that works on education.
“In a state where thousands of government schools are being closed stating the reason of low-enrolment of children, the apathetic state of schools without required teachers will bereft children from their learning more,” added Kashyap.
The school closure/merger policy is also a breach of the fundamental spirit behind section 6 of the RTE Act, which stipulates that ‘for carrying out the provisions of this Act, the appropriate Government and the local authority shall establish, within such area or limits of the neighbourhood, as may be prescribed, a school, where it is not so established, within three years from the commencement of this Act.
RTE compliance is a cardinal parameter to assess the progress on provisioning to the implementation aspect of the Act. But even ten years after the Right to Education Act was enacted, Odisha still struggles to register success in the implementation of the law as elementary education in the state is still in a mess. 
One of the reasons that attributed to a low level of learning outcome among the children was due to the lack of required teachers in schools
A survey by the Unified District Information System of Education (UDISE) 2018 has found that less than 13% of schools across India are compliant with the RTE Act. But a report of National RTE Forum claims that only 6.6% schools of Odisha are complying RTE norms which is even less than the national average.

Learning outcome and role of teachers

In July, Odisha Shramajeebee Mancha (OSM) and Mahila Shramajeebee Mancha, Odisha (MSMO), two state-level people’s organization, undertook a survey of 2,851 school children of class III, Class V, and Class VIII, to assess the learning outcome of the children who study in government schools in 17 districts of Odisha.
The survey reports that out of 845 school students of class VIII, 48% were below the required standard in English subject. Similarly in mathematics, it was 45% among children. The learning level of class III and V of the state is also worrisome in the same way. Out of 1,088 students in Class V, 59% could not meet the expected class appropriate learning level in English, 53% in mathematics and 31% in Odia language.
One of the reasons that attributed to a low level of learning outcome among the children was due to the lack of required teachers in schools or the teacher absenteeism. The Niti Aayog’s School Education Quality Index (SEQI) report further revealed that Odisha scores an abysmal 30 per cent in the learning outcome domain indicator.
This shows how the role of teachers is key to impart quality education. Instead of implementing the rationalization policy where teachers from the closed schools will be shifted to the merged ones, to fill the pupils-teacher ratio gap, the state government should increase its education budget and focus on recruiting teachers as soon as possible to ensure provisioning of quality education.
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*Convener, Odisha Shramajeebee Mancha

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