Declining student enrollment in schools: Who is responsible?

The dwindling trend of student enrollment cannot be attributed to any individual’s failure; it needs a holistic approach and robust policies to address the issue
It has been learnt that the process was initiated after the Anti-Corruption Bureau received a complaint against the department for leaving the school buildings "unattended and in shambles."
It has been learnt that the process was initiated after the Anti-Corruption Bureau received a complaint against the department for leaving the school buildings "unattended and in shambles."Special arrangement

The School Education Department (SED) has initiated the process to identify the persons and declare them responsible for "bringing disrepute to the department" on account of "devastating decline" in student enrollment in government schools resulting in merger of all such institutions.

The move comes after the J&K government recently ordered for the merger of more than 700 government schools for having zero or meager enrollment of students. Before this, around 2400 government schools were clubbed during the process of rationalisation of schools, which were clubbed for having zero or meager enrollment of students.

It has been learnt that the process was initiated after the Anti-Corruption Bureau received a complaint against the department for leaving the school buildings "unattended and in shambles."

“After receiving the complaint, the ACB issued an official communication to the education department to order a probe into the issue,” a top official said.

Post rationalisation of schools, around 800 school buildings were left vacant across J&K and had no watch and ward staff from the concerned department for years together. With no watch and ward provided by the School Education Department (SED), these vacant buildings had turned into ghost houses and resultantly left unattended.

Recently, the Deputy Secretary to Government in SED, Umesh Sharma in an official communication addressed to the Directorate of School Education Kashmir (DSEK) stated that the matter needs to be investigated, and inquire and fix responsibility on the officials who have (sic) brought the department to disrepute by devastating the enrollment in schools.

The advisory was issued in wake of an official communication received from the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) in this regard. In its official communication, the SED has stated that the downfall in the student enrollment in the schools finally ended in merging of such schools and turned the “valuable assets” and infrastructure into abandoned buildings.

The government has openly put the blame on the in-service ReT teachers saying that they were instrumental in merging such schools where the enrollment waned after their regularization and has suggested that these teachers shall be treated as per law for such acts. In wake of this, Chief Education Officer (CEO) Srinagar in early March constituted zonal level committees with directions to identify the officials responsible for leaving buildings unattended.

The inquiry officers have been directed to ensure the identification of school buildings lying vacant due to merger of schools. “The teams are on job and compiling a report to be submitted to the government,” the official said. Going by the official communications circulated from top to lower rung officials, it apparently seems that the government wants to put the blame on a particular section of employees or teachers for “bringing disrepute” to the department and for the decrease in the student enrollment in schools.

However, this presumed targeting of individuals or a group of individuals over the issue of declining enrollment appears to be gross injustice and misrepresentation of facts by the department which has over the years failed to bring in robust reforms in the education sector because of its flawed or half baked policies.

The fresh move where the ACB has initiated a complaint-based probe in the internal matters of the school education department reminds us of a government decision taken in 2018 by the SED.

The government in 2018 had asked the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to probe the poor performance of government schools in Annual JK Board exams. Even the CID started collecting details of the schools where the pass percentage of students was zero or below 50 percent in 10 and 12 class examinations.

The superintendents of police (CID) in all the 10 districts of Kashmir region were asked to furnish a factual report in this regard. The SPs (CID Branch) were even asked to mention reasons of poor performance of the schools besides the role of teachers and students for the same reasons. However the process died down and no official action followed from the government.

So, the fresh move started to identify the individuals responsible for "bringing disrepute" to the SED will also die its own death because it is not the individual who is responsible for the diminishing enrollment in schools but it is the outcome of the flawed policies that has led to this entire messy situation.

Instead of probing the downfall in enrollment, the government should probe how these schools were opened in J&K under the erstwhile SSA scheme. It is an open fact now that no parameters were followed for opening of schools in villages and the scheme was used to please the vote bank. So the blame should be put on the successive regimes instead of blaming lower-rung officials of the department or the teaching community for the mess in the department.

And we cannot always put the blame on a teacher (be it ReT or a General Line) for poor enrollment of students in schools. The government also needs to introspect for its flawed policy decisions. The meager enrollment of students cannot be always attributed to the poor performance of the teacher but the department should probe why parents prefer private schools over government schools in J&K.

The principal secretary SED, Bishwajit Kumar Singh in an interview recently admitted that the drawback of government schools was in terms of layout. He admitted that school buildings of one school are constructed haphazardly all over the campus and there are at least three to four school buildings in every school which really gives a bad impression about the school. He admitted that the appearance of government school buildings constructed in a haphazard manner really disappoints parents and obviously in such a situation they do not prefer to enroll their kids in such a school where even buildings are not constructed while following a proper layout.

It is a fact that when the parents go to a private school, they find a beautiful school building constructed with a proper design which is attractive and motivates them to enroll their kids.

Second thing worth mentioning here is the infrastructural gaps in government schools which the government has never been able to address. Majority of the government schools are without basic facilities for the students which ultimately forces parents to prefer private schools over government schools for their kids.

Instead of putting blame on ReT teachers, who always become a soft target for any mess, over poor enrolment and leaving vacant buildings in shambles, the government should instead order a probe to investigate why the infrastructural gaps remained a persistent problem in government schools. A probe should be ordered why the basic facilities are not provided to children in government schools.

The government should accept that the schools are witnessing a downfall in student enrollment not because of the teachers but because of the non availability of the facilities.

To conclude, it is important to revisit the whole issue in its right perspective and approach so that the issue is addressed with appropriate policy interventions rather than any presumed individual targeting of teachers who are working despite all infrastructural deficiencies to impart education to pupils in Kashmir schools.

The government must constitute a very high-level committee of academicians and administrators to study the whole issue without any bias and come up with policy frameworks and policy recommendations to plug the declining student enrollment in the schools. Blaming individuals will be grossly unjust, and can create more problems than solving any. Hope good sense prevails.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

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