New Delhi: The centre is looking to execute location-specific mergers of nearly 260,000 small government schools as part of a rationalization process to ensure maximum use of resources. In draft guidelines now available for public comments on the Union human resource development ministry’s website, the government says it is time for a “re-look at the expansion of schooling facilities made in previous years and call for a nationwide consolidation of schools".

The move, the ministry believes, will reallocate staff and other resources from schools where they are in excess to the schools where they are needed. It will consolidate the resources in the “best interest of the child" and minimize under-utilization and wastage.

“States are now increasingly realizing that surplus schools, in excess of neighbourhood requirement, have somehow been established which are adversely affecting the provisioning of resources, teaching learning process, monitoring and supervision," say the draft guidelines.

What this indicates is that as part of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (education for all) programme, the government created too many schools to improve access to education. But it now realizes that several of these are surplus and not required.

As part of the SSA, the government created some 367,000 schools. At present it has more than 1.5 million schools across all levels.

As per the draft guidelines, as of 2015-16, at least 187,006 primary schools (Class I-V) and 62,988 upper primary (Class VI-VIII) schools were running with fewer than 30 students. Besides, 7,166 schools had zero enrolment. It says some 87,000 schools have a single teacher. Overall, the numbers indicate the poor state of small schools in India and the proposed rationalization targets all these schools.

The human resource development ministry has received feedback from the states and their analyses reveal that if children and resources now spread over two or more small schools are “combined together within the habitation, it will not only provide a better teaching-learning environment but will also make schools RTE compliant". For example, Rajasthan has analysed the status of its existing schools and concluded that 39,000 revenue villages have 86,324 government schools. To address the issue of schools with zero enrolment, insufficient enrolment and the existence of more than one school in a neighbourhood, the state has decided upon the ‘Integration of schools and establishing of Model Schools.’

“The Indian school sector needs a big shake up—both in terms of quality and infrastructure requirements. Any attempt to reform the sector is a positive step but it must happen in a time-bound manner," said Aurobindo Saxena, head, education practice at Technopak Advisors, a consulting firm.

“Schools with fewer students and poor infra have been a debate after RTE act was implemented. The focus now must shift to outcome at schools than just input based model prevalent for years," Saxena added. Preempting public criticism, the ministry says the proposed rationalisation should not be construed as the closure of schools.

“It is a collective effort undertaken to promote access to schools, to expedite the resourcing of schools, to improve the quality of education, and to ensure the retention of children in schools," the ministry said in the draft guidelines.

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