"Every morning, my son says he does not want to go to school. It is congested and there is no space for the students to even say their morning prayers," says 41-year-old Dharampal, a parent of a Class 11 student of Shaheed Amir Chand Sarvodaya Vidyalaya, which has now been merged with the Shaheed Bhai Bal Mukund at Civil Lines in Delhi.
Congested schools, students turning up in different uniforms, and low teacher-student ratios have become commonplace in government schools across the city, all thanks to the merger of schools being undertaken by the Delhi government.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 recommended the consolidation of schools for greater resource efficiency and more effective functioning, coordination, leadership, governance, and management of schools.
At a press conference on Thursday, 6 October, organised by the Joint Forum for Movement on Education (JFME), educators spoke about the impact that such mergers have on students, parents, and teachers.
The JFME statement issued by chairperson and Delhi University professor Nandita Narain stated that since the announcement of the draft National Education Policy (NEP) in 2019, the Delhi government has started the process of merging 92 schools. At the same time, the Bharatiya Janata Party-controlled Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which had taken up the same in 2018, has merged about 125 schools so far.
"Despite vociferous protests by students, parents, and civil society, this process has continued unabated at an accelerated pace, jeopardising the future of lakhs of children from marginalised sections, especially Dalits, minorities, and women, who are enrolled in these schools," the JFME said.
Educators elaborated that this is because, over the years, students from all backgrounds, particularly lower-income groups, have enrolled their children in government schools, as private education is comparatively more expensive.
What Is the Rationale Behind the Merger?
The NEP states that the reason behind the move is to make the best use of resources. It states, "These small school sizes have rendered it economically suboptimal and operationally complex to run good schools, in terms of deployment of teachers as well as the provision of critical physical resources."
It further states that a lot of teachers in these small schools have to teach multiple grades and subjects at times, including those in which they have no prior background.
It adds that the establishment of school complexes and clusters will have several other benefits, such as improved support for children with disabilities, more topic-centered clubs and events across school complexes, better incorporation of art, music, language, vocational subjects, physical education, and other subjects in the classroom.
The NEP states, "Building such larger communities of schools, school leaders, teachers, students, supporting staff, parents, and local citizens would energize and empower the schooling system, and in a resource-efficient manner."
Sharda Dixit, a former school principal and an observer at CBSE, said, "Thirteen government schools were merged in January 2022 and thirty-two schools were merged in April." Dixit is also the joint secretary of the All India Save Education Committee, Delhi.
Two Schools Merged Into One To Make Way for Sports University
Last year, Shaheed Amir Chand Sarvodaya Vidyalaya (SAC) was merged with Shaheed Bhai Bal Mukund, and the campus of SAC is nowset to function as a sports complex. The matter was discussed at a meeting held among the various stakeholders of the school, in the presence of the Director of Education, Udit Prakash Rai, in July 2021.
The minutes of the meeting, accessed by The Quint, said that the land for the Delhi Sports University was allotted in Mundka. It reads, "Augmentation and procurement of the proper infrastructure and other facilities will take about one year to come up at the designated location. Therefore, without waiting for augmenting the sports facility at Delhi Sports University Mundka, it has been decided to use the premises of SAC, GSV, Sham Nath Marg, and nearby sports complexes for the purpose of Administrative Block and classes for the sports university so that the sports university can be started from this year itself. The sports facility at sports complex, Ludlow Castle and SAC, GSV, Sham Nath Marg make it the ideal location to start the sports university."
Such mergers have taken place at various schools across the capital. Speaking at the press conference, Dixit said, "Many such mergers have taken place in several places across the city. In this case, the vacant plot is being used for a sports university. In many others, it is handed over to NGOs and private players."
The issue of adjustment of students was discussed at the meeting. It was then decided that 1,930 students (1,450 boys and 480 girls) were to be shifted to other schools in the area.
Students and parents protested the move after it was announced. Even today, many students hope to go back to their old schools. The schools were merged ever since offline classes began in 2021.
In May 2022, the Directorate of Education (DOE) released an order regarding the steps to be taken to ensure the "smooth functioning of school after merger."
The order recommended that the administration take steps to deploy teachers as per enrollment and the caretaking branch assess the requirement of staff, such as sanitation staff, estate manager, and security, among others.
The order stated, "After merger, school ID of merged school will be closed and taken out from the online module."
'Students Made To Sit on Ground, Pressed To Buy New Uniforms'
Dharampal, who was also a member of the School Management Committee (SMC) of Shaheed Amir Chand Sarvodaya Vidyalaya before the merger, said, "The students barely have space to sit. There are around 80-90 kids in each classroom. The two schools are within walking distance of each other."
He said, "The SAC had almost 2,000 students and the school they have shifted to has another 2,200 students. So, in total, 4,200 students are being forced into one campus. They do not even have a proper playground for the children to play around."
He added, "Whenever I go to the school, the students ask me about when they will get their old school back. They were attached to their teachers, too. A teacher is like a companion. But their teachers were relocated and now the children have to study under new teachers." He added that currently, the old school is under construction and is in the process of being converted into the sports university. "My son, who would score in his 80s and 90s, got a percentage of 72 after the merger," said Dharampal, adding that his son no longer feels like studying.
He added that the students still wear their old uniforms, and they are being pressured into buying new uniforms, which cost Rs 2,000.
He said, "The name board in front of the school still shows the old name. That is only because parents have been protesting regularly, but the official school name has been changed."
'Mergers Make Girls Unsafe,' Say Educators, Parents
According to Dixit, there is no one trend for mergers. She said, "There are multiple trends that have emerged. One is where morning and afternoon batches, ie, the girls' and boys' batches have been merged. This means that the number is doubled and the staff of one of the schools is fired or relocated."
She added, "In some cases, two co-ed schools are being merged into one and the vacant plots are being handed over to NGOs or private companies. In some other cases, such as in Haryana, plots are being used for military-training schools."
The JFME elaborated on the repercussions of such mergers. Their statement read, "Shakti Nagar Girls' School No 1 and Boys' School No 1 have been merged citing reform in quality and discipline. But the overcrowding and indiscipline have increased to such an extent that many parents have had to pull out their daughters."
Speaking about this, Dixit said, "Boys and girls are cramped into classrooms. Girls are being teased by the boys daily. Parents are concerned about their daughters' safety. Hence, many have taken their daughters out of school."
The statement added, "The shortage of schools in Delhi led to more than 80,000 children being denied admission to government schools. In many schools, the paucity of teachers and classrooms led to severe overcrowding with more than 90 students crowding into each classroom in the heat."
In addition to this, classes are held for shorter hours because more students are studying in these schools now. The JFME added, "Parents of children studying in a school in Sonia Vihar (Trans Yamuna area) have been complaining about the fact that the school now has 7,000-8,000 students, as a result of which classes are being held in shifts of 2 hours or 3 hours duration."