School closure plan outcry in Odisha
The Odisha government’s decision to close down nearly 14,000 schools at the primary level due to poor enrolment sparked off a furore in the Assembly for the second consecutive day on Sunday.
As the pressure mounted on the government, it went on the back foot and sought to defend the decision by saying that “it is planned to merge such schools with nearby schools. It should not be construed as closure of schools”.
Earlier, the state government had taken a decision to close down schools which have low enrolment. At present, Odisha has nearly 67,000 primary and upper primary schools. There are primary schools in the state which have only eight students.
The government constituted a committee to recommend the closure of schools with low attendance. According to the recommendation of the committee, the government decided to close down schools which have a negligible number of students and merge them with nearby schools.
Accordingly, in the first phase the process has begun to close down 7,772 primary and upper primary schools. Most of these schools are in the remote parts of the state, including its tribal-dominated areas. As many as 800 schools will be closed down in tribal-dominated Koraput district alone.
However, the Opposition put its foot down on Sunday and demanded withdrawal of the government’s decision.
Congress legislature party leader Narasingha Mishra said, “Education is the fundamental right of all. It cannot be tampered with. The government should immediately roll back its decision.”
The BJP leaders also opposed the decision and asked the government to reconsider it. “Students will have to travel long distances, at some places more than 2km, if the government closes down low attendance schools,” said leader of the Opposition Pradipta Nayak.
As stalemate over the issue continued, the state government issued a clarification saying its emphasis was on imparting quality education and not closing down schools.
Government chief whip Pramilla Mallik said, “The government is not closing down any school. But there are many schools which have two teachers for just eight students. If the number of students increases, the government will have no problem in running these schools. We are working on the principle of not depriving any one of education.”
However, Mallik’s reply did not pacify the Opposition and it sought a reply from the school and education minister on the issue. School and education minister Samir Ranjan Dash said, “We are focusing on qualitative education. The students will immensely benefit under the merger of school schemes. We are committed to the overall development of students and imparting them quality education.”