Free cycles being handed out to girls in the Government Secondary School in Nandram Ki Dhani village of Hanumangarh district, Rajasthan (Picture credit - Midha Studio)
Many families in the state have transferred their wards from private schools to government schools amidst the financial crisis caused by the pandemic.
Hanumangarh: Raj Singh's daughter, a student of class 11, had been studying in a private school in Sangaria in Rajasthan's Hanumangarh district when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As lockdown was imposed and schools shut down, so did Singh's tailoring business. Deep in financial uncertainty, Singh faced a predicament when his daughter's school started demanding fees, despite being closed even for online classes.
"I somehow managed to pay half the fees and got a TC [Transfer Certificate] from the private school and got my daughter enrolled into Class 11 in a government school. The annual fees in the private school was Rs 16,000 whereas here it is only Rs 700. I'm happy that my daughter could get into a government school," Singh told 101Reporters.
He is not the only one to have taken this step. Due to the massive financial crisis precipitated because of the lockdown, lakhs of people have started sending their children to government schools to do away with the hefty private school fees. A similar trend is being observed in the rest of the country. As this report in India Today notes, many states like Gujarat, Delhi, Telangana, UP and MP are reporting a steep n jump in the number of enrollments in government schools.
Rajasthan's government schools opened with full capacity on November 15, 2021. According to data obtained by this reporter from Shala Darpan — the online database maintained by the Rajasthan Council of School Education — till November 23rd 2021, the number of children in Rajasthan's government schools has increased by 15,82,469 over the last two years, bringing the total up to 96,81,93 students.
Nakshatra Singh, a flour mill operator in Sangaria, said, "Last year, I got my son, a Class 11 student, enrolled into a government school from a private school. I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of education. Children are being taught in a good environment for a nominal fee."
Financial constraints wrought by the pandemic forced Nakshatra Singh (left) and Raj Singh to switch their children, both Class 11 students, from a private to a government school. They say they are happy with their decision (Picture credit - Amarpal Singh Verma)
Another reason that the government schools saw high enrollment rates was because of their mid-day meal schemes. Amidst financial constraints, the provision of at least one complete meal, including wheat, pulses, and spices for their children, was also a deciding factor for many families.
The State's Education department officials and teachers are proud and happy about the high enrollments. Rachna Bhatia, Additional Director, Department of Secondary Education, Bikaner told 101Reporters, "This is a reward for the dedication of our staff towards their duty. During the pandemic, when everything was shut down, the government schools continued education through online classes. Where there were connectivity issues in certain areas, our teachers went door to door, teaching children under trees. No matter the circumstances, we did not let it hinder children's education. This further strengthened the trust of parents in government schools."
Bhatia believes that government schools have more facilities and resources than most private schools. They also have more educated and qualified teachers. "The expansion of facilities in government schools is visible through the Bhamashah Sahyog Yojana — a platform to bring together institutions and donors to remove deficiencies of infrastructure and other facilities in government schools and colleges. People are competing to get their children admitted to our Mahatma Gandhi English Medium Schools. The number of children in government schools of the state is soon going to be one crore," she added.
Bhawani Singh Shekhawat, Principal at the Government Senior Secondary School in Meharwala village, said, "There is no district, town or village in Rajasthan where the number of children in government schools has not increased. All government schools have comprehensive facilities and students study for free till class 8. After that, a nominal fee is charged and complimentary bicycles are provided to girls in Class 9 and 10. During the pandemic, we are also taking full safety precautions and enforcing the wearing of masks and social distancing.”
Gloom hovers over private schools
In contrast, private schools are in a state of despair. Small and mid-sized private schools in the entire state have been suffering from the onset of COVID-19. Babulal Juneja, founder of SRS Private School Association, Hanumangarh, felt that the state government too has contributed to the current condition of private schools.
Private school operators gather at the District Collectorate in Hanumangarh to submit a memorandum protesting the order allowing government schools to admit private school students even if they did not have a transfer certificate (Picture credit - Midha Studio)
"The state government discriminates between private and government schools. The government considers only government schools to be its own. Around August last year, the Rajasthan government issued an order allowing state schools to give admissions to children from private schools even without a TC. Because of this, many of our students left and we could not demand any fees. We are continuously submitting memoranda to the administration and education department officers regarding this, but no one is listening," rued Juneja.
He added that about 50 private schools, out of an estimated 550, have shut in Hanumangarh district alone. Others are on the verge of closure.
Anil Sharma, State President of School Shiksha Parivar, an organisation of private schools, said that 4,000 private schools have closed in the state since the start of the pandemic. "Moreover, due to the financial crunch and the burden of liabilities during the pandemic, 67 private school operators were forced to commit suicide."
This frustration amongst private schools is further aggravated because of two years' worth of pending reimbursements under the Right to Education Act, 2009. RTE requires private schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats in primary classes for children belonging to economically weaker sections of society. The schools are entitled to reimbursement from the education department towards this.
According to Juneja, RTE payments of more than Rs 7 crores due to about 550 schools in Hanumangarh district are stuck with the state. Across Rajasthan, this figure is over Rs 800 crores, he said.
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