THE state government’s decision to enforce the ‘neighbourhood school’ concept from next year is going to change the admission policy of the government-aided schools. According to government guidelines, school managements have to give preference in admission to students residing within 1-5 km radius of the school, but the rule has been hardly followed. The government grants approval and aid to schools in order to make education available for students in the nearest school. However, school managements have been making their own criteria and guidelines for taking admissions once they got approval from the government, defeating the very purpose of granting permission for opening and fund for running of schools in particular areas.
Most of the developed countries have a well-funded school system founded on the concept of neighbourhood school. The high quality of education in well-established neighbourhood schools gives strong foundation to the education system on whose quality depends the quality of development. Most people in United States of America choose their homes depending on the location of a good neighborhood school having high standards of quality education. Such a system has become universal over the years in most of advanced countries and could be a boon if properly implemented in the state. The neighbourhood school concept is not a new idea and was first mooted in the country by the Kothari Commission way back in 1960s. The Kothari Commission had recommended a ‘common school’ system which would enable all sections of society to get their children admitted to a common school. The Kothari concept has got buried with the passage of time.
The use of arbitrary admission criteria by school managements prompted the central government to lay stress on vigorous promotion of the concept of neighbourhood schools and make it obligatory on these schools to grant admission to children from all sections of society living within specified areas. That is one of the key planks of the Right to Education Act. Community participation was also one of the components of neighbourhood schools, which would help in indirect participation of the local community in the process. It is not enough to ensure admission of children to school but it is also necessary that these schools have high quality education. For that inputs from all sections of society can be useful.
The concept of neighbourhood schools should be vigorously followed by the education department in Goa to get them to admit children from all sections of society living within specified areas of their location. As these schools are obliged to bring children from diverse social, economic and ethnic backgrounds together to help achieve larger desired objectives of integration and equity, all efforts should be made to ensure that they have high class teaching standards. The focus of the drive to promote neighbourhood schools should be to establish uniform teaching standards in them. If some schools are found wanting in imparting high quality education, the very purpose of promotion of the concept would be defeated.
For fruitful implementing of the RTE Act the central government had envisaged setting up 2,500 neighbourhood schools in the country to begin with and sought private participation for the mission. Neighbourhood schools have many advantages: students have to spend less time travelling and the traffic is easier to manage at school timings. The involvement of local community would mean a constant watch on the school functioning and the quality of teaching. The neighbourhood school, with students belonging to diverse sections, would also help in creating a better environment for social integration.
Some of the neighbourhood schools set up by the state government as part of the implementation of the RTE did not attract students at all. Apparently the idea failed to take off because parents were not sure of the quality of education imparted in these schools. To make sure parents send their children to neighbourhood schools the education department must assess their quality of the education. Those lagging behind in quality education should be made to improve. It is never too late to make a beginning. As quality education means quality manpower for development, both in the public and private sectors, the idea of enforcing the policy of neighbourhood schools should be pursued together with the policy of promoting quality education. The Manohar Parrikar-led coalition government’s common minimum programme speaks of making quality education an integral part of the education policy. As high quality schooling requires funds to back improvement in school resources, let us hope the government does not let the objective of providing quality education through neighbourhood schools remain far from fulfilment.