Odisha Government tweaks School Closure Criterion; Lowers Closure Bar to 15

The Naveen Patnaik led Odisha government quickly changed its stance of closing schools with fewer than twenty students, on the back of widespread protests from both the general public as well as the opposition legislators in the House. The initial decision to merge schools with low student counts was taken in the interest of financial prudence and administrative ease.

On Sunday, Odisha School and Mass Education Minister Samir Ranjan Dash had announced that the government would take over schools with an active student count of less than twenty. “Of the 14,382 schools in Odisha having student strength less than 40, efforts are being taken to merge 7,722 schools. In doing so, the state government is only trying to improve the teaching environment and impart quality education,” Dash had said.

Opposition parties have strongly lodged their protest to the proposed change. Senior Congress leader Tara Prasad Bahinipati even threatened to end his life in the Assembly if the cause was implemented as is. On Sunday, the Legislative Assembly had to be adjourned eight times, and a four and a half-hour discussion ensued today. After the deliberations, Dash announced that the closure criteria has been lowered to fifteen. He said that it was still open for suggestions from MLAs.

“The ‘one size fits all’ decision will exclude thousands of children living in inaccessible regions to access education. The government must revisit the policy and decide on shutting down of schools on case to case basis,” said Umi Daniel, a social activist.

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