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Odisha govt move may close down 14,339 primary schools, spike dropout rate

By Our Representative
Education activists and civil society organizations (CSOs) across Odisha have opposed the state government’s move to close schools with low student strength as it will increase dropouts among children, especially in the tribal and backward regions of the state, where children mostly depend on government schools for their education. Due to the government's move, around 14,339 primary and upper primary schools in the state will face imminent closure.
Activists have urged the government to rethink on it, as it will have a high bearing on the public education system of the state. According to them, it violates the spirit of ensuring free and compulsory elementary education to all children as per the Right to Education Act 2009.
Naba Kishor Pujari, an education rights activist and a member of Right to Education (RTE) Forum, said, “Schools are being closed administratively without much publicizing it. The school closer/merger policy is also a clear violation of Section 3 and 8 of the RTE Act which guarantee free and compulsory education to every child and also ensures that the child belonging to weaker sections and the child belonging to the disadvantaged group are not discriminated against and prevented from pursuing and completing elementary education on any grounds”.
“Unfortunately, the state government which is arguing that schools are being closed in the effort to impart the quality of education, is a myth as there is no evidence that support the logic. Rather, it will have a life-long impact on the education of children and especially from the tribal, Dalit and other marginalized communities”, Pujari added.  
School closure move has been initiated under Niti Aayog's Sustainable Action for Transforming Human Capital in Education project



Another activist, Anil Pradhan, convener, Odisha RTE Forum, said, “Majority of the schools closed citing the rationalization tag, are from tribal and backward regions such as Rayagada, Mayurbhanj, Kandhamal and Koraput. Tribal habitations generally have small hamlets spread across the village separated by natural barriers. Closure of schools without adhering neighbourhood norm will further increase the distance between habitation and the schools.”
“Anecdotal evidence shows that children, especially at the primary level, find it difficult to walk a longer distance and tend to be absent from the school regularly. With the school far away from their village, parents often hesitate to send off their kids the neighbourhood school as they find it difficult to keep a tab on them”, Pradhan added.
Recently, the Odisha RTE Forum sent a letter to chief minister Naveen Pattnaik urging him to reconsider the school closer policy as this will leave education of marginalised children in the lurch. According to the he school and mass education department, 6,340 schools will be permanently closed where the enrolment of children is below 20. Another 5,177 primary schools will face closer where children’s attendance remains below 40, the report said.
The state RTE Forum alleged that the school closure move has been initiated by the Niti Ayog under its ‘Sustainable Action for Transforming Human Capital in Education (SATH-E)’ project, which is being implemented by the Odisha government. The National Sample Survey Organization’s 2017-18 household survey has revealed that the out-of-school children number in India (6-17 years) was 32.2 million, which is expected to doubled in a year. The World Bank recently warned that pandemic-induced school shut down would cost India over $400 billion.

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