Think beyond slogan of Free Education: It has not proved so convincing

Think beyond slogan of Free Education: It has not proved so convincing

The government should study Delhi model and focus on infrastructure upgradation to make schools main attraction for parents

The social media remained flooded with videos of cultural programmes, advertisements, slogans and hoardings shared by the teachers during the ongoing enrollment drive carried by the school education department from the second week of this month.

From the last year, this has become an annual exercise of the education department to conduct the enrolment drive at the commencement of the new academic session in government schools.

This year it is for the second time when the drive is being conducted with much fanfare. One should applaud such initiatives taken by the teachers to increase the enrollment in the government schools.

But the question remains whether these enrollment drives remain successful or not and by how much percentage the enrollment increases in these schools after holding these enrolment drives.

From the last year it has been observed that the department only sells one slogan that is “free education for all” which gained momentum after the Government of India implemented the RTE Act in J&K from 2019.

Under the Act, the student in a government school is entitled for free education up to elementary level. From textbooks to uniforms and from Mid-Day Meals (MDM) to stationery, everything is given free to students in government schools.

Does it mean that there is nothing worth which the department can sell to convince the parents of the students to enroll their kids in government schools, it has remained unanswered till now.

No doubt the department has set up smart classrooms and has established CAL centres and ICT laboratories in schools for the students. But the number is very small to brag about it. The way the department sells the slogan of free education apparently seems like a veiled attack on private schools which remain in news at the time of new academic session for charging capitation, annual fee and other charges.

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The question remains whether the government has been able to sell its slogan in a positive way or not. Was the slogan well received by the parents, nobody knows. The way the department speaks about the education in government schools it seems there is nothing worth except free education and MDM.

I have also seen some hoardings, visuals and audio messages shared on social media wherein the department has majorly focused only on Free Education which I think is not impressive at all.

Firstly, the department should have prepared a blueprint to fill the infrastructure gaps in the educational institutions and make them more attractive for the kids. During the ongoing enrollment drive in schools, the students were seen sitting in open air as the schools are having accommodation crunch and have no space to accommodate kids in the schools. Such instances obviously puncture all such drives where a school child is not provided a proper seating arrangement after convincing him to receive free education in government school.

Why a student cannot have a proper desk and bench in school and have a properly maintained classroom as well. Obviously an educational institution should have all the facets to look like a school. This is the main area where the government schools are lagging behind and on the other hand private schools take a lead and remain with the government sector. In private schools, getting education becomes a costly affair in terms of money but they provide better facilities as well.

While the debate is going on over the negatives and positives in government schools, the private education sector has taken a lead in raising good infrastructure in schools besides increasing enrollment of students. The government sector is still clueless on whether good infrastructure matters or not.

The school education department in December 2020 started a comprehensive village level survey to identify the out of school children and also offer admission to other students in different classes.

The enrollment drive, as per the department figures yielded positive results with fresh admissions of over one lakh students across the Valley. Similarly, this year the department claims to have registered around 50000 new admissions in the ongoing enrolment drive this year. The new admissions in schools as per the department figures have increased the enrollment by around eight percent. But the department should not keep its initiative confined to the drives and slogans. Much needs to be done to make the government education sector a first preference.

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A school should not approach the student for admissions but a student should get attracted towards the government school. Imagine the situation when parents are seen waiting in long queues outside the private schools during predawn hours to get admission for their kid in private school. While on the other hand, authorities go door to door to convince parents to enroll kids in the government schools. But what they have to sell is the Slogan of “Free Education for all”.

The government claims that it has established over 2000 kindergartens in schools which is expected to give a flip to the student enrollment in government schools. The new facility as per the department helped attract parents to enroll their children into the government education system.

Here lies the difference, the government school has now shifted its focus on establishing kindergarten sections in schools and on the other hand the private schools groom the students from kindergarten classes. So obviously it will take years for the education department to set the base of the schools.

Secondly, the Government of India punctured the claims of the education department after revealing that the government schools in J&K witnessed a dip in the enrollment during 2020.

The official figures shared by the government of India revealed that the government schools witnessed a decrease by 1.75 lakh students in a year at elementary level. The figures also stated that the enrolment decreased by 0.2 lakh at the primary level and 0.1 lakh at the upper primary level, which resulted in a decrease of 0.34 lakh enrolment at the elementary level last year (2020).

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As per the documents, the decrease was about 0.07 lakh at secondary level and 0.04 lakh at the higher secondary level. Such revelations raise serious questions on the claims made by the directorate of education Kashmir for having an increase in the enrolment of the students in schools. Going by the figures shared by the Government of India it seems that the increase in the enrollment in government is a hoax.

The basic problem is that the government has failed in developing a good infrastructure in schools and instead focuses on erecting only buildings due to which it has become the least preference for the parents. The kindergarten and the primary section of the schools which forms the base of the institutions has been ignored by the government over the years. This is one of the main reasons why the government education sector is crumbling now.

At various places, there are schools which could have been established as centres of excellence as well as attraction for the children, but unfortunately the sluggishness of the government has made all the schools look like mere a concrete structure. The land which could have been utilized as play fields have been consumed under flawed constructions.

At this juncture it is not possible for the government to undo the wrong that has been done in the past. But let there be a positive campaign from the government to make government schools the first choice for the children. It is the right time for the government to focus on the up gradation of school infrastructure.

The government policies should not revolve around free education, but standards should be improved. The government should study Delhi model of Government Schools and move forward to bring reforms in the government education sector. Let the government act on practical lines and bring reforms in the education sector in reality.

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