Tamil Nadu: Pandemic advantage

EducationWorld July 2021 | Education News
Shivani Chaturvedi, Chennai
MK Stalin

Chief minister Stalin: playing field tilt

Since it was re-elected to office after a hiatus of ten years, the new Dravida Munnetra Kazhagan (DMK) government led by M.K. Stalin, son of M. Karunanidhi, one of the founders of the party (estb.1949) which initiated uninterrupted rule of Dravidian political parties with close links to popular Tamil cinema way back in 1967, has made an impressive start to his first innings as chief minister.

One of Stalin’s first big decisions was to appoint a high-powered Economic Advisory Council (EAC) comprising globally respected Indian diaspora economists including Nobel laureate Esther Duflo; Dr. Raghuram Rajan (Booth School of Business, University of Chicago and former RBI governor); Arvind Subramaniam (former chief economic adviser to the Central government) and Jean Dreze (Delhi School of Economics) to aid and advise the new DMK government to place the state’s economy back on track. In the education space heavily disrupted by the Covid pandemic, an initiative to make transfer certificates (TCs) optional for children switching schools has given a huge boost to languishing government schools.

Rules framed by the state government over a decade ago under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, required students to produce a TC issued by the transferor school prior to the transferee school admitting them. This was acceptance of a convention that all fees and dues of the transferor school had been cleared.

But under the new directive issued on June 22 to all schools, the state’s education ministry stated that by using the Aadhar card number of a student, his/her details could be accessed from the Educational Management Information System (EMIS), a common online platform connecting schools, teachers and students, by the transferee school. However, this directive is limited to students transferring from private to government and government-aided schools. Students switching from one private school to another still need to produce TCs.

As a result, the state has witnessed an unusual reverse migration of students from fee levying private to free-of- charge government schools because the Covid pandemic has resulted in widespread job and income losses for parents statewide. Currently, 5 million students are enrolled in Tamil Nadu’s 12,419 private schools of which 10,000 are affordably priced budget private school (BPS). The new directive making TCs optional has tilted the playing field in favour of Tamil Nadu’s 37,217 government and 8,403 government-aided schools which were hitherto experiencing a continuous exodus to private, especially budget private schools.

During the past year, nearly 300 of my 1,200 students have switched to government-run schools, because their parents have experienced Covid-related financial difficulties. Moreover, fees for the academic years 2019-20 and 2020-21 are overdue as most parents haven’t paid their children’s fees. And this year, they are shifting their wards to government schools,” says Dennison, founder of Infant Jesus Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Kalpakkam.

K. Radha, founder-principal of the Little Oxford Matric Higher Secondary School, Chennai, affiliated with the Tamil Nadu Board of Secondary Education, says that with the state government’s recent announcement that Aadhar or EMIS number of students is sufficient for admission into other schools, parents are not required to get TCs to admit their children into neighbouring government schools. “BPS in the state are facing a serious crisis. There was negligible fees collection in 2020-21 as many parents didn’t pay fees because of financial difficulties and others don’t want to pay for virtual classes. With depleted revenue, we can’t pay our teachers. In 2019-20, we had 60-65 teachers and now that number is half,” she says.

But while Tamil Nadu’s newly elected DMK government is pulling out all the stops to fill up government schools taking advantage of the Covid pandemic, it’s a moot point if the public interest is being served. With all 37,217 government schools still shuttered, the only remote lessons being provided to their 6.7 million children, is through Kalvi TV, the state government-run television channel. The learning outcomes of children passively learning from one-way lectures are worse than before.

Also Read: Fees regulation imbroglio

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