Schools with 20 students may soon become a closed chapter
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In a bid to ensure quality education across Maharashtra, the state education department is once again considering shutting down schools with low enrolments. According to sources, education officials across all districts have been notified to identify such schools. Simply put, thousands of primary and secondary schools where the number of students is 20 or less will be shut. The affected students enrolled in such schools along with teachers will be shifted to the nearest available schools.

As per the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2019, a primary school from Class I to V should be at a distance of 1 km from the student’s house. While the upper primary school from Class VI to VIII should be at a distance within 3 km from the student’s residence.

In 2016, the school education department had issued a circular warning to close around 13,817 schools in the state operating with less than 20 students. This included 55 schools in MMR. The schools were issued notices but there has been no action till date. This year, the state education department has come up with a circular against around 1,314 schools having less than 10 students each, including one school in Mumbai.

According to the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the state can shut down schools that have less than 20 students. The education department had carried out a survey in 2009-10 in this regard, but the decision to close the schools hasn’t been implemented yet. There are 13,817 schools across the state with less than 20 students, and 5,002 with less than 10 students, according to education department records.

The order for the closure of these schools was given in 2014, as the government was facing problems in running its schemes, including mid-day meals, and maintaining pupil-teacher ratio among other things.

Currently, most schools are following online module or sessions via Doordarshan etc from home due to coronavirus pandemic outbreak. So, when the actual school starts, thousands of students might have to travel farther to school. The government, however, is discussing the option of reviving the decision of closing schools with less than 20 students. "Not shutting exactly but we are considering merging schools having less than 20 students to a bigger school which is the nearest. There is no point allowing schools with less than 20 or 10 students to operate. Following the report by education officials from all districts we will take a final call," an official said.

Some teachers of state-run schools are in support of shutting down schools which have less students while, others oppose it saying this will lead to academic loss, loss of jobs and affect overall development. Mridul Naik, a teacher said, "It is difficult to teach in a school which has just 10 to 20 students. Out of this, not all students attend class every day. Also, there is no scope for group interaction, class activity or discussion where different opinions and perspectives can be shared. It is better if these schools are shut and students are moved to another school where they can meet their counterparts."

While, Kavita Sahewal, a teacher, said, "If schools with few students are shut down it will lead to academic loss as generally these students are from families with weak financial backgrounds. These students may not attend class if shifted to another school considering the cost of commute, distance and travel time. Also, teachers and non-teaching staff will lose their jobs if schools are shut. Instead of shutting, the state school education department should implement new methods to attract more children and initiate fun based learning in these schools."

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Free Press Journal