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The country-wide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and attendant issues have led to major violations of civil liberties and human rights in India. While some restrictions on rights may have been necessitated by the nature of the pandemic, we believe that a large number of violations were entirely excessive, arbitrary and totally avoidable. The impact of this curtailment of rights and of civil liberties has been felt across all sectors, including the economy, education, health, media, prisons, employment, migrant workers, women, domestic workers, sex workers, prisoners and their access to justice, etc.

Five months after, it has become palpably clear that the lockdown has also been used by the Government to push through undemocratic means laws and policies which are against the people. In this context, PUCL Maharashtra has put together ‘Lockdown on Civil Liberties’, a series of reports of the impact on these restrictions on various segments. While some of the reports focus on the situation in Maharashtra, others deal with a pan-India situation.

Broken Slates and Blank Screens: Education Under Lockdown” is the third in the series. This report brings out the state of education in Maharashtra in context of the lockdown – its implications for the rights of children and youth. The analysis while focusing on immediate impact of the pandemic sets this in context of the systemic issues plaguing education. So while it highlights the main issues due to the lockdown, it raises questions about framing policies that violate the fundamental principles of federalism and constitutional rights and promise of “Education for all”. Among other things, the report finds that digital classrooms and compulsory examinations for final year college students, is doing more harm than good for the young student community.

The 48-page report entitled Broken Slates and Blank Screens: Education Under Lockdown (released in September 2020), has been authored by Simantini Dhuru with the help of others from PUCL (Maharashtra), including Meena Gopal, Lara Jesani, Chayanika Shah, Sandhya Gokhale, John D’Souza, Mihir Desai, and others. 

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The key findings of the Parliamentary Standing Committee report on Demands for Grants 2020-21 (Demand No. 58) of the Department of School Education & Literacy (presented to the Rajya Sabha on 5th March, 2020), Report no. 312, are as follows (please click here to access):

• The budgetary allocation for Department of School Education & Literacy were Rs. 46,356.25 crore in 2017-18, Rs. 50,000.00 crore in 2018-19, Rs. 56,536.63 crore in 2019-20 and Rs. 59,845.00 crore in 2020-21.

• As compared to the proposed B.E. 2020-21 of Rs. 82,570.04 crores, only Rs. 59,845.00 crore has been allocated to the Department of School Education & Literacy. A substantial reduction of Rs. 22,725.04 crore i.e. a reduction of 27.52 percent has been made in the proposals made by the Department of School Education & Literacy.

• A substantial reduction has been made in the proposed B.E. 2020-21 of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (27.36 percent reduction) and in the Central Sector Schemes a reduction of 27.22 percent has been made. The Centrally Sponsored Schemes are Samagra Shiksha, Padhna Likhna Abhiyan, Appointment of Language Teachers, Umbrella Programme for Development of Minorities-Education Scheme for Madrasas and Minorities, and National Programme of Mid Day Meals in Schools (MDM). The Central Sector Schemes are National Means-Cum-Merit Scholarship Scheme, National Scheme for Incentive to Girl Child for Secondary Education, National Award to Teachers, Operation Digital Board and Pradhan Mantri Innovative Learning Programme (DHRUV).

• The Department of School Education & Literacy launched the Samagra Shiksha – an Integrated Scheme for School Education by subsuming the erstwhile Centrally Sponsored Schemes of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Teacher Education (TE) from 2018-19 for universalization of quality education throughout the country in coordination and consultation with the states and UTs. Samagra Shiksha is an overarching programme for the school education sector extending from pre-school to class XII and aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels of school education.

• At the national level, the proportion of vacant posts for teachers in elementary and secondary levels under Samagra Shiksha was 23.26 percent in 2017-18. The total number of vacancies in elementary (4,17,057) and secondary (61,108) levels under Samagra Shiksha was 4.78 lakhs during 2017-18. The state with the highest number of teacher vacancies in elementary and secondary levels under Samagra Shiksha in 2017-18 was Bihar (1,26,446), followed by Uttar Pradesh (1,01,159) and Jharkhand (61,737).

• Under Samagra Shiksha (elementary level), the proportion of work completed for additional classrooms was 95.48 percent, drinking water 95.37 percent, boys' toilet 92.12 percent, separate girls' toilet 96.04 percent, toilets for Children with Special Needs (CWSN) 81.27 percent, ramps with hand rail 86.8 percent and electrification was 82.91 percent as on 31st December, 2019.  

• Under Samagra Shiksha (secondary level), the proportion of work completed for additional classrooms was 73.51 percent, integrated science lab 70.34 percent, computer rooms 76.09 percent, library 75.17 percent, art/ craft/ culture room 72.81 percent, drinking water facilities 83.31 percent, boys' toilets 71.74 percent, girls' toilets 67.73 percent, CWSN toilets 4.55 percent and ramps 2.83 percent as on 31st December, 2019.  

• Under Samagra Shiksha (higher secondary), the proportion of work completed for additional classrooms was zero percent, science lab zero percent, physics lab 0.22 percent, chemistry lab 0.23 percent, biology lab 0.22 percent, computer room zero percent, library zero percent and art/ craft/ culture room was zero percent as on 31st December, 2019.

• At the national level, the proportion of government schools having facilities like drinking water was 96.39 percent, boys' toilet was 94.64 percent, girls' toilet was 97.03 percent, boundary wall was 60.12 percent, playground was 56.98 percent, ramp was 71.50 percent, CWSN toilet was 19.59 percent, electricity was 56.45 percent and library was 79.36 percent, according to the Unified District Information System For Education (UDISE) 2017-18 (Provisional).

• States where most government schools don't have electricity are Assam (24.78 percent), Bihar (42.43 percent), Chhattisgarh (65.87 percent), Jammu and Kashmir (28.29 percent), Jharkhand (42.64 percent), Madhya Pradesh (19.61 percent), Odisha (30.13 percent), Rajasthan (51.59 percent), Uttar Pradesh (31.05 percent) and Uttarakhand (71.22 percent). Figures in bracket indicate percentage of government schools having electricity facility.  

• The Parliamentary Standing Committee has recommended the use of MGNREGS manpower for construction of boundary wall for school premises.

• The Parliamentary Standing Committee has recommended that a study be made about the food items that can be procured locally in different parts of the country and included in the mid-day meal scheme (MDMS). This is expected to help make the food served to students more nutritious and also give a boost to local farmers growing these products.  

• The key hurdles in the implementation of the MDMS are: (i) Delay in the release of funds to the implementing agencies by the states; (ii) Lack of dedicated management structure at state, district & block levels; (iii) Delay in construction of kitchen-cum-stores; (iv) Lack of convergence with other schemes; and (v) Constraints in availability and supply of LPG cylinders.



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