Odisha Shuts Several Govt Schools, Rural Education In Jeopardy

Bhubaneswar: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the entire education system in the country. But the students in Odisha are up against a different hurdle. Low turnouts in several rural schools have forced the Odisha government to shut those one after another.

As many as 200 schools were closed back in 2014 to kick off the process. Cut to 2019, about 1,000 schools having less than 10 students each were ordered to shut doors.

According to initial planning, the Odisha government had contemplated shutting down 14,000 schools in phases. The number nosedived to almost half following the Right to Education (RTE) Forum and opposition parties’ intervention.

There are many who drop out for various reasons, but few want to continue their education despite several odds. For those who want to study further, this closure of schools is almost forcing them to draw curtains on their education.

Nine-year-old Debendra Mahakud from the Kaptipada block in Mayurbhanj district studies in Class IV in Saharasahi Primary school — barely 100 metres from his house. But ever after establishing the school 10 years ago, the state government has now decided to close it, thanks to low student strength.

Following the closure, Debendra will be left with no option but to travel to the next school which is 3 km away from his residence. His daily wage labourer father is now uncertain whether he would be able to send his ward to school post the pandemic.

“I am not sure if my son can continue his education. The new school is far away and I can’t let him travel alone. When he was studying in the old school, I could keep an eye on him and ensure he attended classes. But it will be difficult to keep a watch on him if he goes to the new school. He is a young boy and there are chances that he might skip classes. Also, I am not very convinced about his safety as he has to cover a patch of forest to reach the new school,” the helpless father was quoted as saying by news agency IANS.

“He has already lost one year of proper study lessons even though he has been promoted to class IV as per the guidelines. There were some students in our village who took tuition, but since we couldn’t afford it, my son will remain behind them,” Debendra’s father rued.

However, to address the issue, the state government has proposed a ‘transportation cost’ for those who are willing to travel a distance to continue education, which according to experts, is no solution to the problem.

“The problem is the government is trying to look into solutions without looking at the actual issue. The issue here is low enrolment in schools and why it is happening. Without addressing this, the government is focussing on transportation. The reality is that there are no adequate teachers nor proper classes. So, it is obvious that the students are dropping out. Even if the government bears the transportation cost, how it can be sure that students staying in tribal areas will attend classes. In tribal areas, the terrain is not easy, so even if they get money, they will have to wade through forests and rivers just to attend school. Practically, this won’t be possible and they will drop out,” Anil Pradhan of RTE Forum was quoted as saying by the agency.

Following protests by activists and other political parties, the state government has ‘officially’ put on hold the school closure decision. Field workers though say the implementation is on.

“It is difficult to gauge the exact situation due to the pandemic as all the schools are closed. But our field officers have informed us that in several parts, the school has been shut down and the school furniture and supplies have been removed. This is a very unfortunate step,” Pradhan said.

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