District firm on school merger
Jamshedpur: East Singhbhum district administration, where many villagers protested against the merger of smaller schools following a Niti Aayog recommendation to utilise resources to the maximum, has come to the conclusion that none of the schools closed under their domain will reopen.
The state government identified 3,528 primary and middle schools for reorganisation (read closure, merger or degradation). In East Singhbhum alone, 393 schools have already been downgraded/ merged, affecting around 11,000 children, with parents protesting the dangers on the way to the allotted new schools, including children having to cross a highway or a nullah. More recently, when the district closed down a 114-year-old school and merged children with another, villagers ran the heritage school on their own as a tribute to its history. The Telegraph has reported all these incidents.
Asked on Tuesday, district superintendent of education (DSE) Banke Bihari Singh told this paper that they were aware of rural protests but on revisiting the sites did not find sufficient grounds to roll back their decision. In case of nullah or highway or any terrain deemed risky for children, teachers would have to escort their wards safely, he said.
"We could have only withdrawn the decision had distance been an issue. But there were other issues, which can have solutions. So we are not taking back our decision," DSE Singh said. Under the norm, the distance between the closed school and the one to which the students of the closed school had to attend could not be more than 1km.
Singh said he had personally visited a number of villages and spoken to people. "In some places like Mahulia and Kalimati in Galudih, Ghatshila, villagers had revolted against the merger of their primary schools Prathamik Vidyalaya Kalimati and Mahulia Balika Prathamik Vidyalaya with Mahulia Adarsh Madhya Vidyalaya. They said this required children to cross the busy NH-33. Now, the government officials have made alternative arrangements. Teachers of Mahulia Adarsh Madhya Vidyalaya will help students cross the service lanes of the highway everyday," he said.
A teacher, Uttam Kumar Das, who was earlier the headmaster of the now-closed Prathamik Vidyalaya, said the new system of teachers escorting students was in place from June 11 after summer vacation.
But, on the ground, the anger among students has not abated. Some parents of Kalimati said many class I and II students were admitted at a nearby private school for a monthly fees of Rs 200 to avoid the highway. Some who could not afford private school fees have even left the village to study from their relatives' places. Some have agreed to send their older children to Mahulia Adarsh Madhya Vidyalaya, said villager Shabbir Hussain.
In Dhamakbera, where people did not want to let go their 114-year-old Prathamik Vidyalaya, educated homemakers of the village are still continuing to take informal classes on the verandah of the closed primary school.
But, Singh said the school would not reopen officially. "Here, the future of students matter more than saving an old building. We have made villagers understand and want them to enrol their wards to the new schools as soon as possible," he said.