The government of Tamil Nadu is contemplating closing down government schools in the state with less number of students.
According to a report in the Times of India, the state government has around 24,300 primary schools across Tamil Nadu and has identified over 400 schools with less than five students. The government, as per the report, is mulling closing down those schools and merging them with bigger schools nearby, since it spends around Rs 10 lakh each on running such institutions. Instead of spending money to maintain the schools, the state government is considering providing transportation facilities to children who are currently studying in these schools to continue their studies in the merged institution.
The number of government schools with less than 10 students has increased this academic year when compared with 2018-19. In 2018-19, 1,238 schools functioned with less than 10 students and this number has increased to 1,531 schools in the current academic year. The government of Tamil Nadu has also shut down over 50 schools in the present academic year which had no students, and converted them into libraries.
Though this move might make sense financially for the government, experts and resource persons working closely with government schools, have a mixed response.
Speaking to TNM about the proposal, Sheela*, a resource person working closely with the Tamil Nadu School Education Department, says that the move would definitely improve the efficiency and learning outcomes in children.
“Most of these schools with less than 10 children function with one teacher. In such cases, the purpose of education is lost since the whole setup functions like a tuition class without the students being exposed to anything outside of the classrooms. They don’t get to meet more people of their own age and hence would lose out on bigger and better experiences,” she says.
However, she adds that there is a chance that the number of dropouts from school will go up if this proposal goes through. Her skepticism stems from the fact that many such schools in Tamil Nadu are located in the remotest of villages, where access to school plays a major role in parents’ decisions to enrol their kids.
“Government schools generally cater to people from the lower strata of society who cannot afford to send their children to private schools which are expensive. In such a context, shutting down or merging schools with nearby bigger schools might end up depriving children of a chance to get an education. This is because parents will then shy away from sending their kids to a school which is far away,” she points out.
Stakeholders have also raised red flags around the idea of merging primary schools with nearby bigger schools which have senior classes on earlier occasions. For instance, this happened when the School Education Department issued an order which stated that elementary classes in government schools, which function in the same compound as a middle, higher or higher secondary government school, will be monitored by the staff of the higher classes.
PK Ilamaran, President of Tamil Nadu Teachers' Association, had expressed strong opposition to the order stating that the learning goals of both the levels of education are totally different and hence it would not be right to encourage the staff of higher classes to monitor elementary school children. His criticism came from the fact that the teachers in primary classes are trained to deal with children of that age, which might not be the case with teachers handling higher classes. He had also pointed out that while the learning goal in lower classes is to develop abilities and skill-sets, the learning goals in higher classes would be to clear exams.
TNM’s attempts to reach the Director of Elementary Education for a comment did not succeed.