Political Agenda or Educational Vision? Mahatma Gandhi Schools, Sole English Medium Option for the Poor Under Threat of Closure

Teachers highlight a key issue regarding the Mahatma Gandhi Schools. They argue that these schools were established due to political pressure rather than thoughtful planning. As a result, the selection of school locations was not strategic. In some areas, these schools are situated far from Hindi medium schools. Hence those students who do not wish to study in the english medium schools are dropping out and drifting away from the mainstream of education
An English medium school at Obri village in Sagwara block of Dungarpur district.
An English medium school at Obri village in Sagwara block of Dungarpur district.

Jaipur- As the spotlight shines on Rajasthan's Education Minister, Madan Dilawar, recent discussions have emerged around the fate of many Mahatma Gandhi English Medium Schools in the state.

Madan Dilawar had recently said that a comprehensive review is underway at the government level regarding the Mahatma Gandhi English Medium Schools.

This critical assessment will determine the fate of these institutions, whether they will continue functioning or face closure. The education minister said that alongside this evaluation, there is a keen focus on ensuring alignment with the central government's new education policy. Based on these considerations, a final decision will be reached.

Amidst whispers of potential closures, Dilawar's pronouncements have sparked widespread debate and concern.

Currently, a staggering 7.25 lakh students are enrolled in English medium schools across 3737 establishments, with admissions being determined through a lottery system.

The demand is palpable, with an average of 25 hopefuls vying for each available seat, specially in city areas.

Notably, over 48 thousand applications have been received, for admission in these schools.

Critics raise questions regarding the timing of the school review process, particularly amidst the ongoing admission process 'Praveshotsav'. Sources reveal that approximately 3.5 crore textbooks have been published for distribution in government schools, with 40 lakh designated for English medium schools.

This raises concerns about the fate of students seeking admission during Praveshotsav in May if the government decides to close these schools at this juncture.

The conflicting actions of preparing textbooks while simultaneously contemplating school closures have sparked uncertainty among educators and parents alike regarding the continuity of English medium education for students.

An English medium school at Obri village in Sagwara block of Dungarpur district.
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The Congress is sharply criticizing the BJP government's move to potentially close schools that were converted from Hindi to English medium during the Congress rule in 2019.

Former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot voiced strong opposition to the proposal to close English medium schools, emphasizing the initial intention behind establishing these schools.

Gehlot stated that these schools were launched with the specific goal of providing English education to children from poor and middle-income families. He expressed disbelief at the idea of reverting these schools to Hindi medium, arguing that such a move would be detrimental to the interests of the underprivileged sections of society.

Following in the footsteps of former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee President and MLA, Govind Singh Dotasra, has vehemently condemned the government's intentions.

Dotasara issued a challenge to the Bhajanlal government amidst the controversy surrounding English medium schools, declaring that he will not permit the Assembly to function if these schools face closure. He boldly questioned the consequences for children's futures should these institutions shut down.

Dotasra also stressed on the absurdity of potentially transferring these students to private English medium schools at public expense when the government has the capacity to hire more teachers. He attributed the resistance to this pragmatic solution to a select few vested interests within the state.

Political Will Overrides Norms in School Openings, Teachers Union Advocate for Conversion of Underperforming English Medium Schools

The Mooknayak spoke to many teachers and representatives from various teachers unions who voiced concerns about the sustainability and effectiveness of certain English medium schools.

According to them, more than a thousand of these schools are operating without adequate resources, struggling to deliver satisfactory results due to a shortage of teachers or insufficient enrollment numbers.

In light of these challenges, they argue that it would be in the best interest of the student community to discontinue these underperforming schools and convert them into Hindi medium institutions.

They unanimously assert that the Congress government lacked wisdom and strategic planning in authorizing these institutions.

" Initially, in the first phase, the schools were opened based on population norms, with one school for every 5,000 residents, which seemed reasonable. However, in the subsequent phases, English medium schools were sanctioned for villages with a population as low as 2,500 and in the third phase it was purely on the political recommendations or desire" Ramesh Chandra Pushkarna, the State President of Rajasthan Shikshak Sangh (Rashtriya) told The Mooknayak, specifically pointing out that the expansion of English medium schools in certain areas was driven more by political motives than educational necessities.

He highlights instances in Jodhpur, the home constituency of CM Ashok Gehlot, where majority of schools were converted to English medium despite the absence of public demand or requirement. In Chittorgarh, his hometown, he says, many schools lack basic infrastructure and amenities such as building, classrooms, electricity, water supply, toilets or playgrounds, raising questions about the government's priorities.

He further emphasizes that schools should serve as hubs for holistic development, with teachers being the cornerstone of effective education. However, in the absence of adequate teaching staff, the utility of such schools is compromised. He suggests that at least the 1,000 schools opened in the third phase, primarily for political gain, should be reconsidered for closure.

Pushkarna emphasized the need for targeted action, stating, "The government should strengthen the infrastructure and facilities in the schools opened in the first phase as per norms where English medium schools are viable, have enough students and are exhibiting good results." He highlighted the importance of investing in schools that demonstrate potential for success.

Regarding the remaining schools, Pushkarna asserted that "reviewal is justified," suggesting a thorough evaluation to determine the most appropriate course of action based on individual circumstances and performance metrics.

Discussing the issue of English medium schools, Sher Singh Chouhan, State President of Rajasthan Panchayati Raj and Madhyamik Shikshak Sangh, emphasizes the importance of strategic location in determining the utility of these institutions.

Chouhan highlights the stark differences in demand between urban and rural areas, citing examples such as the Dhanmandi school in Udaipur, where there were "1000 applications for just 59 seats last year," and Jaipur's Mansarovar school, which received "over 1800 applications for 54 seats." He notes that parents who are unable to secure admission in private schools are turning to government schools for their children's education.

Chouhan also observes a contrasting scenario in rural areas, where schools are struggling to attract sufficient applications. He states, "In rural areas, schools are not getting enough applications and dates have been extended from May 12 to May 15 for admission application."

Advocating for a balanced approach, Chouhan suggests that the government should consider "pros and cons before making any final decision." He also says that if the government consider extending required resources to the rural schools, the educational landscape could completely change.

Pramod Kumar Gupta, State General Secretary of Shikshak Sangh Pragatisheel, clarified the union's stance, stating, "So far, the union has not held a meeting in this connection." Gupta highlighted that decisions on this matter would be deferred until after the removal of the Model Code of Conduct.

Mahatma Gandhi School in Phagi, Jaipur
Mahatma Gandhi School in Phagi, Jaipur

Teachers highlight a critical issue concerning staffing in these schools. "Thousands of teachers were appointed on a contract basis in these schools," states Mahendra Kumar Lakhara , the general secretary, Shikshak Sangh, Rashtriya. He elaborates, "For nursery classes, 3 teachers were designated, while 5 teachers were assigned for primary classes up to class 5." However, Lakhara points out that selected teachers prioritized schools closer to towns and cities, resulting in improper representation of teachers in remote areas. Further, those candidates selected

Teachers highlight a key issue regarding the Mahatma Gandhi Schools. They argue that these schools were established due to political pressure rather than thoughtful planning.

As a result, the selection of school locations was not strategic. In some areas, these schools are situated far from Hindi medium schools. Hence those students who do not wish to study in the english medium schools are dropping out and drifting away from the mainstream of education .

Consequently, many students struggle with English, leading to poor attendance and academic performance. Teachers question the feasibility of expecting children from low-income families, such as laborers or farmers, to comprehend English in such circumstances.

Furthermore, it has been reported that among the teachers appointed in the Mahatma Gandhi schools, approximately three thousand qualified the Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers (REET) and consequently left their positions. This exodus has left a significant gap in the teaching staff of these schools.

Additionally, the contracts of the remaining four thousand teachers are set to expire in May. This impending expiration further exacerbates the precarious situation, leaving the fate of students hanging in the balance. The potential departure of these teachers raises concerns about the continuity and quality of education for students enrolled in Mahatma Gandhi schools.

Was Launched as a Flagship Scheme

In response to the imperatives of globalization and the pressing need to integrate with the global educational landscape, the launch of the Mahatma Gandhi Government School (English Medium) emerged as a flagship initiative.

Rajasthan, primarily a Hindi-speaking state, faced a significant challenge wherein students in government schools struggled to attain proficiency in English, a language increasingly vital for success in the global arena.

Against this backdrop, and in commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, the Mahatma Gandhi Government Schools were (English Medium) inaugurated.

The initial plan was to establish one English medium school at each district headquarters, a strategy that evolved and expanded over time. This vision materialized with the inauguration of the first government English medium school in Mansarovar, Jaipur, which commenced operations on July 1, 2019.

This landmark initiative marked the beginning of a journey to provide quality English medium education to students across Rajasthan, setting a precedent for similar institutions to follow suit in other district headquarters.

The pioneering endeavor sought to address the linguistic barriers faced by students in government schools by providing English-medium education from classes one to twelve. The primary objective was clear: to equip students with the necessary language skills and competencies to compete effectively on the global stage.

While Education Minister Madan Dilawar has cited alignment with the National Education Policy 2020 as grounds for the review, it's crucial to note the provisions of the NEP that emphasize the importance of bilingual education.

The NEP emphasizes the need for high-quality bilingual textbooks and teaching-learning materials, particularly in subjects like science and mathematics.

This approach aims to empower students to engage fluently with these subjects in both English and their native language.

As of now, the Model Code of Conduct prevails till June 4. Once the MCC is lifted, the review process for these schools will commence. However, before making any decisions, it's crucial for the government to engage in comprehensive discussions with stakeholders, management members, and village development committees.

This inclusive approach will ensure that decisions are not driven by political agendas but rather by a genuine understanding of the communities' needs. It's imperative to identify and address the real challenges faced by these schools and the communities they serve.

An English medium school at Obri village in Sagwara block of Dungarpur district.
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