There is a huge network of about 15 lakh schools in India in which about 26 crore students are registered.
Government initiatives such as Right to Education, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and mid-day meals have significantly improved access to school education.
However, there are still massive inter-related challenges ranging from learning outcomes, teacher vacancies, governance to organizational issues.
In this context, the work done by NITI Aayog under Sustainable Action for Transforming Human Capital in Education (SAAT-E) in three states Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha can show the way forward for other states.
The rapid opening of small government schools across the country and declining fertility rates have left some of these schools extremely small in size.
Running a large number of small schools is not only costly but also has an impact on academic results as the availability of teachers is less.
For example, in Jharkhand, 4,380 schools were merged resulting in savings of about Rs 400 crore.
The NITI Aayog project clearly emphasizes on the need to merge small, small-scale schools with low student enrollment and make adequate arrangements for teachers as the school education scenario of the country changes. It has an important role in bringing it.
Academic reform and innovation at the school level can be successful only when systemic challenges are addressed with a combination of changes at the institutional and operational levels.
Mergers of small schools and neighboring schools have yielded better academic and administrative outcomes, according to a project-based report released this week.
Once integration takes place, larger schools not only provide larger school sizes but also have better availability of teachers and better infrastructure.
Apart from this, it increases the efficiency of the students, they move from one class to another easily and also prevents the process of teaching multiple classes simultaneously.
More students receive the support of a larger peer group, adding depth and diversity to their knowledge. This helps in improving academic discipline.
All of these are linked to better school performance, lower dropout rates and better learning outcomes for students. Better monitoring and governance is also a benefit associated with merger of schools.
The experience of the three schools involved in the Saath-e project may encourage other states to adopt some of the lessons learned from it.
During this, factors like economic feasibility and impact on children of local communities will also have to be kept in mind.
Given the differences in the geographical features of India and keeping in mind the tribal population, full attention should be given to ensure that access to school in remote areas is not affected and the number of school dropouts does not increase.
The presence of schools around people’s residential areas should be a priority. Especially at the level of primary education.
The success of Khunti district of Jharkhand is noteworthy. The district administration made transportation arrangements for students living far away. Students would gather at their old school and from there reach the newly merged school by bus. For older students, the option of bicycle can also be considered.
Apart from this, policy makers should also pay attention to the quality of teaching and curriculum as they are also important in improving academic lessons.
Any policy around restructuring of government schools should be carefully drafted. Without improving teaching in government schools, India will not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.