Government Higher Primary School at Kanva in Karnataka’s Ramanagara district, a “zero-teacher” school on the verge of closure with its 35 students likely to be shifted to a model school around 8 km away, had served as an office for renowned engineer M Visvesvaraya.
This is among the 13,800 schools staring at closure under the government’s school “merger” plan, which has villagers, academics and local politicians worried. The district has 127 panchayats, and going by the model-school norm of one school per panchayat, its school count can reduce from 1,300 to 127. As per data available with the office of the district’s deputy director for public instruction, 17 schools have shut in the current academic year on account of low admissions and lack of teachers.
Higher Education Minister C N Ashwath Narayan is in charge of Ramanagara.
According to Ramadas Jayanth, president of the school development and monitoring committee, the school was Visvesvaraya’s office when he oversaw the construction of the Kanva dam in 1946. The building also housed other engineers and architects.
In 1952 the government decided to convert the office space into a school. “The building was converted into a school after they realised that Kanva did not have any schools and that students had to travel 10-15 km to study. When the school was built, it was the first education institution in the entire neighbourhood,” said Jayanth, who joined the school as a student in 1978.
Jagadeesh, a teacher on deputation at the school, said at least 200 students used to enrol in the school every year because there were hardly any other schools in the village. “Thanks to a private school located just about 5 km away and other government schools that have sprung up over the years in the neighbouring villages, the Kanva government school saw a drastic decline in admission as well as teacher recruitment,” said Jagadeesh.
The school has only two guest teachers, who handle multiple subjects and switch between classes.
Jayanth opposes moving the students to the model school, in Shanubhoganahalli, and has written to the block education officer to recruit teachers to his alma matter. “This is one of the first schools that was set up in the village. We will not allow the government to shut it down. This also holds high significance because it was once the office of Visvesvaraya. If at all the school is shut, we will not send our students to the model school but will keep them in their houses instead,” he said.
Condemning the plan to “merge” schools, the All India Democratic Students Organisation warned that protests would intensify if government schools were shut on the pretext of developing model schools. “That the government is set to close 13,800 government schools in the state under the NEP (National Education Policy) guidelines is highly condemnable. Instead of increasing funding to government educational institutions, developing basic facilities and appointing teachers, the government is set to demolish schools. If there is an attempt to close the schools, our struggle will intensify,” said V N Rajashekhar, president of the organisation, addressing a convention held in Bengaluru to mark the death anniversary of educator and social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.