Closure of schools, a threat to Odisha’s tribal education

While the state government goes over the merger policy, a civil organisation questions the drafting of such a policy without interacting with villagers at the local level.


The Department of School and Mass Education (SME) is currently awaiting orders from the Odisha government regarding the closure of primary and upper primary schools in the state, said Deputy Secretary Pratibha Dora on November 23, 2020 when asked about the state government policy that could potentially affect many schools in tribal areas.

While Dora was unable to confirm the cause of the reconsideration, the changes are being discussed following heated exchanges during Assembly proceedings on November 21.

The state government declared on November 22 that primary schools with less than 15 attending students in scheduled areas and schools with less than 20 attending students in non-scheduled areas would be merged with nearby institutions.

While this decision relaxes much of the tension created by the earlier criterion of closure of schools with less than 20 and 40 students in scheduled and non-scheduled areas respectively, Odisha RTE Forum’s – an informal network of civil society organisations – Convener Anil Pradhan argues that the revision offers little relief for the marginalised communities.

“This decision will have a disastrous impact upon tribal and vulnerable communities. There are small tribal hamlets beyond mountains and rivers that would suffer due to this closure of primary schools,” said Pradhan to SabrangIndia.

Pradhan said that the government ought to consider and correct the causes of low enrolment and attendance rates rather than outright closure of schools.

“It will be better if the government conducts a survey to understand the reason for the poor attendance performance, especially by talking to parents, local MLAs, gram panchayat authorities. If they do, they will know that tribal children have to work because of which they are often unable to attend schools,” he said.

In a memorandum letter addressed to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik earlier in 2020, the organisation questioned the wisdom in taking such a grave decision without any formal consultation with most backward communities in tribal regions that would face the brunt of mergers and closures.  They estimated almost 25 percent schools in 56 tribal sub-plan blocks from Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Rayagada and Mayurbhanj districts were selected for closure by March 7, 2020.

“Blocks like Rayagada, Kandhamal, Sundargarh are going to suffer the most within these districts,” said Pradhan.

The complete memorandum by the Odisha RTE Forum can be viewed below:

The RTE Forum worried about the decision impact on the Rights to Education (RTE) enshrined within the Right to protection of life and personal liberty. As per their ground reports, schools in certain regions have already been closed contrary to government assurances.

In the past as well, the policy had led to the closure of roughly 155 schools with an attendance of less than five students had been closed.

Following huge protests, schemes like tribal allowance were initiated but offered little help since such offers could not assure a person to send the child to school.

Pradhan agreed that closure of schools could not be avoided however, he insisted that locals, parents and students be included in this decision. Children especially were actively protesting in some of the state to denounce the government policy.

“Many protests have sprung up in different parts of the state wherein children have also participated. Some of them requested the government to take away the mid-day meal schemes if necessary but refrain from closing downs schools altogether,” said Pradhan.

On Saturday, similar protests also took place in Kandhamal district.


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