Low student enrollment: The debate continues

Blaming ReT teachers squarely won't help address this problem. The government has to provide facilities in its schools at par with private institutions
The decline in the enrollment has also opened a never ending debate about who is responsible for the dwindling trend of the student population in schools.
The decline in the enrollment has also opened a never ending debate about who is responsible for the dwindling trend of the student population in schools.Special arrangement

The decline in the student enrollment in government schools has become a persistent problem which has thrown a major challenge for the government to sustain its campaign of enrollment drives and retain the student population in government schools.

The decline in the enrollment has also opened a never ending debate about who is responsible for the dwindling trend of the student population in schools.

Recently, the School Education Department (SED) 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.

After this, the SED directed the Rehbar-e-Taleem (ReT) teachers to ensure enrollment of 10 students in stand-alone Government Primary Schools and enhance the number through door-to-door campaigns.

The directions were given by the Principal Secretary SED Bishwajit Kumar Singh after convening a meeting regarding the merger of government Primary Schools with “very poor” enrollment.

The ReT teachers in schools having 3 to 10 students have been directed to enhance the student enrollment through door-to-door campaigns under Mega Enrollment Drive. The government has justified the diktat saying that the “very objective” of creation of ReT cadre was to ensure the universal access of students and warned them of disciplinary action for their failure to enhance the enrollment.

The direction for a particular teaching community to enhance the enrollment seems that the department is targeting a particular community for the downfall of government schools in terms of enrollment, which, on the face of it, is far from the truth.

Before making a particular community target for any downfall, the government should take a general view to analyse the contribution of the teachers be it General Line Teacher, ReT teacher or those recruited under erstwhile SSA scheme.

Going by the minutes of the meeting wherein the ReT teachers have been asked to enhance enrollment in schools, it seems that the slogan of Mega Enrolment Drives held across villages is the only key to success, which may be a preposterous premise.

Mere holding enrollment drives in villages and other far off areas will not solve the problem. There are other factors associated with it which need to be taken care of to survive the so-called enrollment drive campaigns.

The chapter doesn’t end at holding enrollment drives but in order to sustain the campaign and retain the enrollment, the government has to provide all the facilities to the students at par with private schools which will only convince the parents to enroll the kids in government schools. If the government fails on these fronts then obviously the enrollment in government schools can never enhance and putting blame on a particular teaching community for the downfall will be the easy escape route used by the government for its face saving.

For the past two years, the government claimed that the enrollment in government schools increased by one lakh students each year. But months after taking credit for enhancing the student enrollment, the J&K Chief Secretary pulled up the School Education Department (SED) for the decline in the retention of the students in government schools at different levels.

Not only this, the government also ordered the merger of around 700 government schools across J&K for having zero or meager enrollment of students. Such moves came with a surprise that where students go after being enrolled in the government schools during the last two years.

Not only this, the debate has started over what facilities these students, particularly those enrolled in kindergarten, were provided by the government in these two years.

During the enrollment drives, the government attracts the parents with the slogan of free education, uniform and state of art facilities in government schools.

But contrary to that, the government doesn’t even provide a small desk for the students to sit comfortably in a classroom. Ironically, in the majority of the schools, particularly in rural areas, these kids are deprived of a proper classroom and the kindergarten students are not entitled to Mid Day Meals (MDM) as well. No doubt the government claims that kindergarten students can get the diet from Anganwari centres but till date no student has received any such facilities from any anganwadi centre.

To sum it all, the government has miserably failed to sustain the campaign on ground which has deflated all its claims for bringing reforms in the government education sector.

Apart from facilities, the government doesn’t even provide adequate teaching staff to the students in government schools. Recently, a zonal level education officer shared that the department has no special teachers in all schools for kindergarten kids. “We have been asked to only acclimatise these students by encouraging them to come to school for at least one year. Decisions about facilities and other issues will be taken later,” he said.

Contrary to what is claimed during enrollment drives, the kindergarten kids in government schools are not even provided a uniform as well.

Kindergarten section forms the base of the education sector and merely installing banners and other buntings will not help the government to survive on it. After holding enrollment drives, there has to be some sustainable measures from the government so that the campaign lasts long.

Not to talk of the kindergarten kids, the children in primary and upper primary level are also sailing in the same boat.

In the past few months, the government started an exercise to rationalize the staff in government Primary and Upper Primary schools to overcome the deficiency of teaching staff in high and higher secondary schools.

Under this process, the Post Graduate (PG) and P.hD teachers from primary and middle schools are shifted to high and higher secondary schools to overcome the dearth of staff. This move has created huge crises in middle and primary schools following which the parents are threatening to cancel the admission of their kids in government schools. I visited several primary schools in rural areas where I found a good number of students in all the five classes managed by a single teacher. Not only this, several upper primary schools having students from Kindergarten to class 8th have only three to four teachers posted and the students are forced to attend classes under open sky due to accommodation crunch in these schools.

Under these circumstances, the government cannot put the blame on a particular teaching community and hold them responsible for decline in the enrollment or act against them for not retaining the enrollment in the school. It is the primary responsibility of the government to provide all the facilities to the students after they get enrolled in the school. The job of a teacher is to provide academic support which has to be complemented by the efforts of the government to equip the schools with all the basic facilities including proper classrooms and desks.

If the Government fails to provide the basic facilities to the students, it will raise a big question mark about what is there to sell about the government schools except hollow slogans. And obviously, hollow slogans will not impress parents to admit their kids in schools and blaming teachers for it will be unjustified.

So instead of targeting teachers for a decrease in the enrollment, the government should improve the facilities in government schools which will be a Unique Selling Point (USP) with authorities for their product. Only joint efforts will bring reforms in the education sector.

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