Affected students and teachers will be relocated to the nearest available schools or a cluster school. File pic
Stating that schools with fewer students are struggling to provide proper education and foster social connections between students and teachers, the state government is pushing forward with its plan to create cluster schools. Over 14,000 schools with student populations lower than 20 across the state are likely to be shut down and merged into cluster schools.
In a concerted effort, the state school education department issued a comprehensive circular on Thursday, outlining criteria to implement this policy. The Maharashtra government aims to close primary and secondary schools with enrollments of 20 students or fewer, with affected students and teachers being relocated to the nearest available schools or a cluster school.
According to data provided by the state government, there are a total of 14,783 schools in the state with enrollments of 20 students or fewer. This decision will impact a total of 1,85,467 students and 29,707 teachers.
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The circular, dated September 21, reads: "The government is committed to providing quality education to every child in the state. Along with that, the government is also trying to ensure that every child in the state stays in the stream of education until the end. To achieve this objective, keeping in mind the geographical area of the state, the government has constructed schools in very remote areas of the state, such as villages, wadis, and settlements. To socialise every student in the school, develop sportsmanship in them, and provide quality education, various educational materials, equipment, and facilities like audio-visual aids, playgrounds, and an adequate number of co-students must be provided."
The circular mentioned case studies of successful implementation of cluster school projects from Toranmal in Nandurbar and Panshet in Pune. "The state's first âcluster school' project was set up at the Panshet village in Velhe tehsil, where the cluster school caters to students coming from 16 villages. Meanwhile, 26 residential schools in tribal areas of Nandurbar were brought under a single roof at Toranmal Residential School. The school now has a cumulative strength of 700 students. We have the capacity to increase enrollment in this school to 1,500. Similarly, the cluster school helps us reduce establishment costs and, at the same time, upgrade the learning experience," said an official from the school education department.
The official added, "Many of these schools we have listed have enrollments even fewer than four to five students, leading to inadequate infrastructure, a shortage of qualified teachers, and minimal enthusiasm. We came to the realisation that these students are missing valuable socialisation opportunities." Additionally, Clause 7 of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 correctly recognises the importance of consolidating small schools into larger ones or cluster schools as a crucial step toward achieving the goal of providing quality education.
The move has been opposed by educational activists and teachers who feel this will lead to unemployment among teachers as well as dropouts among students, who would not want to travel if the school is far off for financial as well as safety reasons. "This is a reprehensible policy of the state government. Who has proved that students in schools with low enrollment do not socialise? Is there any study that suggests this? We would like the school education department to show it to us, as stakeholders, we deserve to know if there is such a study done. This is a violation of RTE, depriving children of education," said Vijay Kombey, state president of the Maharashtra State Primary Teachers Committee.
Justifying the cluster school plan, another official from the school education department said, "The intent behind establishing group schools is not to shutter educational institutions or diminish teaching positions within the state government. The cluster school not only helps us reduce establishment costs but will also help in upgrading the teaching and learning experience for both students and teachers."