Odisha HC Bins State Order to Merge Primary Schools

The Orissa High Court has rejected the state government’s order to merge primary schools with a smaller number of students, ending the debate on a year-old move that attracted a lot of criticism. The Bench arrived at the order while allowing a batch of 168 petitions which challenged the move on grounds that it had violated the Odisha Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2010.

The state government, whilst preparing the order, had suggested that several schools had become ‘ghost schools’, with only a handful of students enrolled under each such institution. Such a level of decentralisation not only hampered the government’s efforts to better the quality of education but also created trouble as far as the financing of such schools were concerned. Hence, in an effort to consolidate the situation, the decision to approve the merger of schools with student counts below a certain threshold was approved.

“Schools with students less than 20 were to be merged with bigger schools nearby. The consolidation would make schools inspirational for students and result in improvement of the pupil-teacher ratio. There would be better infrastructure facilities, better academic environment with additional facilities, e-learning and co-curricular facilities,” the notification said.

However, the petitioners have contended that under the extant law, a primary school teaching students of classes I to V has to be established within a walking distance of one kilometre of every neighbourhood. The plaintiffs went on to add that the decision was a highly ‘arbitrary’ one, and would only increase dropout rates as students would face difficulty travelling to schools that are geographically far-off from residential areas.

The High Court order is significant as the original plan had envisioned the merger of an estimated 16,000 schools. Already, the merger of 4500 such schools has been completed. Justice BR Sarangi directed the School and Mass Education Department to restore the status quo and ensure appropriate infrastructure for the smooth operation of the schools in question.

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