Ashutosh Mishra

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Odisha government’s decision to close down around 1000 schools with student strength of less than 10 has stirred a controversy with the move not going down well with parents and educationists.

The government plans to shift these students to nearby schools. Arrangements will be made for escorts and payment of transport allowance. Yet the move has raised hackles as a change of school, with the alternative facility located in many cases at a distance of three to five kilometres, is being seen as a disincentive for students, especially in the tribal dominated areas.

This is not the first time that the government has taken such a decision. In 2016-17 more than 800 primary and upper primary schools were shut down because of poor intake of students. It is a grim scenario that reflects poorly on the state of primary education in Odisha.

Most importantly it shows that awareness about the need to educate children still remains low in far flung areas, especially in tribal dominated districts such as Rayagada. The mid-day meal scheme had initially succeeded in accelerating enrolment and curbing the drop-out rate in such schools but now even the lure of free food does not seem to be working.

In many cases poor parents themselves decide against sending children to schools and subject them to labour either in the fields or in shops and factories with a view to augmenting the meagre family income. Gradually the child loses interest in formal education. Bringing such children back to schools is a Herculean task.

Given this backdrop it seems criminal that schools in far flung tribal hamlets should be closed down even though they have been reporting low student intake. Running such institutions may be financially non-viable but it is good from the point of view of overall development of backward communities. A welfare state has to take such risks.

This is all the more important in the present scenario when in tribal dominated districts like Rayagada, Koraput and Malkangiri Maoist ultras are trying to expand their footprints by taking advantage of backwardness of people in terms of education and government facilities such as schools and hospitals.

One would recall that sometime ago the government itself had taken a conscious decision to follow a two-pronged strategy to bring down the menace of left wing extremism which is most visible in tribal dominated districts such as Koraput and Malkangiri. The plan was to continue the coercive drive against the ultras while simultaneously launching developmental initiatives in the Maoist belt. With focus on creating and upgrading infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads in such areas the government aimed to prevent people from falling into the trap of radicals.

Spread of education through schools being a key element of this plan the government’s decision to close down schools with poor student intake could prove counter-productive and help the ultras spread their network further in the backward areas populated mostly by the members of tribal community. The government needs to re-think its decision.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)