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Four nursery, primary schools sealed

Four schools near Vellore have been sealed by District Elementary Education Officer
(DEEO), Vellore, Kribakaran and Vellore tahsildar Arun on the orders of Collector C.
Rajendran and Chief Educational Officer, Vellore, G. Moorthy on Wednesday, for
functioning without the approval of the School Education Department.

They were Lakshmi Saraswathi Primary and Nursery School, Ariyoor, R.T.P. Vidyalaya,
Bungalamedu, Abdullapuram, Sai Krishna Primary and Nursery School, Periya Koil
Street, Thorappadi, and INFA Nursery and Primary School, Karugambuthur.

Mr. Kribakaran said the schools have not been granted approval as they lacked the
required infrastructure. A primary and nursery school should have seven rooms,
reinforced cement concrete roofing for all rooms, adequate toilets, and a compound wall
(if located on a main road). Arrangements have been made for securing admission in the
nearest English medium nursery and primary schools for the students already studying in
the schools that were sealed on Wednesday.

A total of 70 nursery and primary schools in Vellore district have not been granted
recognition, Mr. Kribakaran said.

The Collector has issued orders for initiating action against the other schools in the
district as well. Recognition would be granted to the unapproved schools if they create
the minimum infrastructure facilities, he said.
Nursery schools' approval, renewal nearing completion

Shastry V. Mallady

30 schools in Madurai dt. yet to comply with norms

MADURAI : The process of approval/renewal of nursery schools in Madurai


district is nearing completion with the Education Department streamlining
procedures in accordance with the new regulations brought in by the
Government for nursery schools. Following regular inspections during the
recent months, managements of nursery schools fell in line to meet the
safety stipulations prescribed by the Government.

In Madurai district, only 30 out of 277 schools are yet to get the necessary
approval while 220 schools undertook implementation of guidelines for
receiving renewal certificate.

The district Chief Educational Officer, K. Sridevi, told The Hindu that the
department had ensured that every nursery school had the four mandatory
certificates - safety clearance from the fire and rescue service department,
building approval by the Tahsildhar, sanitation certificate and stabilisation
certificate.

She said the approval process was almost completed. Renewal applications
were being cleared only after the department inspections were undertaken.

Ms. Sridevi held a review meeting with the Elementary Education Department
authorities on Saturday where the processed/pending applications were
taken up for discussion. She pointed out that awareness on safety in nursery
schools was high now "and some schools had even closed down after the
Government came out with strict compliance measures."

Meanwhile, a senior official in the Elementary Education Department said the


`Single Window System' introduced by the Government to enable nursery
schools submit documents and get approvals had worked very well.

Sufficient time given

Stating that nursery schools were no longer an issue, he said sufficient time
was given to school managements to get the certificates/documents. "The
regulations are working in favour of children and parents. The positive
outcome should be felt by the public", he said adding that classrooms,
infrastructure, safety and sanitation were taken care of through the
Government initiative.
The Tamil Nadu government extends the deadline it set for the closure of over 2,000
nursery and primary schools that have failed to conform to safety and infrastructure
regulations.
K.V. SRINIVASAN

At the cramped entrance of a nursery school during the last academic year.

UNCERTAINTY surrounds the fate of over one lakh nursery and primary schoolchildren
in Tamil Nadu with the State government issuing on April 11 an order asking over 2,000
nursery and primary schools to close if they did not have or did not renew the Education
Department's approval to function or failed to conform to safety and infrastructure norms
by May 31. But on June 8, following an appeal made by the schools, this deadline was
extended by three months.

As per the Nursery Code of 1991 (amended in 1993), which is being enforced strictly
after the fire tragedy in a school in Kumbakonam in July 2004 (Frontline, August 13,
2004), schools need to get their approval renewed every year by getting certificates for
building safety (under the Tamil Nadu Public Buildings Licensing Act, 1965) and
structural stability from the Public Works Department or a chartered engineer. The
schools must also have sufficient classrooms, laboratories, furniture and sanitary
facilities.

On the basis of this code, the Directorate of Elementary Education issued the order,
which also directed that students of those schools be transferred to other institutions in
the area.

On May 30, the order was challenged in the Madras High Court by the Tamil Nadu
Nursery, Primary, Matriculation and Higher Secondary School Management (TNNPM)
Association. According to its general secretary D. Christdas, the Nursery Code was not
implemented strictly all these years leading to the mushrooming of nursery and primary
schools in the State. But now the government is asking the schools to close down.
According to him, moving children from unapproved schools to others can compound the
problem. Approval for a school is given for a fixed student-and-teacher strength and
based on the infrastructure. Now, if hundreds of students from unapproved institutions
get transferred to an approved one, its strength would suddenly go up without any
addition to the infrastructure. Moreover, thousands of teachers of the schools ordered
closed would be thrown out of their jobs. He says that the government needs to consider
these issues and give the institutions sufficient time to comply with the norms.

According to Christdas, the schools can be grouped into three: those that have applied for
fresh approval, those seeking renewal, and those that have never applied for approval. He
says: "We are not seeking any relief for unapproved schools, but only time to comply
with the norms."

On May 31, Justice K. Raviraja Pandian stayed the operation of the order for a month in
respect of schools whose renewal applications are pending with the authorities and those
that are yet to renew their structural stability and fire safety certificates.

Meanwhile, the Elementary Education Department ordered district officials to compile a


list of unapproved nursery and unaided primary schools, including those that have
applied for recognition, and put them up at the District Elementary Education offices.
According to the preliminary lists released on June 1, Chennai has 235 such schools,
Madurai 220, Coimbatore 96, Tirunelveli 81, Tiruchi 130, Thanjavur 116, Thoothukudi
52, Nagercoil 241, Vellore 320, Kancheepuram 307 and Cuddalore 164. None of these
schools has been ordered to close as the petition challenging the order was pending with
the High Court.

In the meantime, 25 schools in the southern Madurai and Virudhunagar regions had got
an interim stay of the order from the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on the
grounds that their applications for renewal of approvals were pending with the
government. Several unrecognised nursery schools in the State had also gone to the High
Court against the implementation of the order.

Some schools that do not have the approval had closed suo motu. Following reports that
some schools had reopened in the hope of getting their renewals later, the Education
Department formed district-level flying squads to prepare a list of such schools.

According to the Education Department, there are about 2,600 unapproved nursery and
primary schools in the State. But the TNNPM Association says that the figure is several
times higher. A five-member team led by district elementary education officers along
with officials from the departments of Health, Fire Service and Public Works is
conducting surveys in every district to ascertain the number of such schools. According
to informed sources, even the schools that have got approval are to be scrutinised for
basic amenities and safety norms. Matriculation schools that have a nursery and
kindergarten section are also asked to apply for approval.

IN the wake of the fire at the Sri Krishna High School in Kumbakonam, which killed 90
children when the thatched roof caught fire, educationists such as S.S. Rajagopalan asked
the government to look into questions such as: Why are nursery and primary classes
conducted on the first and second floors? Why are kitchens (of the noon-meal centres or
of the school) located close to the thatched roof of a school? How are primary schools
allowed to function without a playground and without ensuring proper safety, sanitation
and hygiene? How can three or four schools be run from one building? How have the
schools, which are supposed to follow the norms in the Grant-in-Aid Code of the Tamil
Nadu Education Rules, been escaping scrutiny?

According to Rajagopalan, Tamil Nadu had one of the most comprehensive sets of rules -
the Grant-in-Aid Code under the Madras Education Rules (now, the Tamil Nadu
Education Rules) - framed as far back as 1956, for setting up a school. The Code sets
norms not just for the building but also for sanitation, hygiene and general safety
(Frontline, July 13, 2004).

The Tamil Nadu Education Rules state: "The competent authority can withdraw the
recognition given to any school permanently if the school authority violates any one of
the conditions stipulated for recognition."

Under the Tamil Nadu Private School Regulation Act, which applies to all schools in the
State, the PWD or a chartered engineer has to issue a "structural fitness certificate". But
as every builder is a chartered engineer, the schools get the fitness certificate from the
one who built the school. Thus, in some sense, it is self-certification that is happening.

According to Rajagopalan, matriculation schools drafted their own Rules in 1978. The
Code of Regulations prescribed for matriculation schools says: "The Educational Agency
must satisfy... that it has sufficient buildings, classrooms, laboratories, furniture, sanitary
facilities and adequate playground for physical training activities" (Chapter II Section
10C). But with the expression "sufficient" not defined in the Code, managements took
advantage of this loophole and set up schools without any playground, adequate space or
proper infrastructure. Schools have come up in thatched sheds, in tall buildings with poor
access and in cramped spaces. In several instances, more than one school - aided, unaided
and English medium primary section - is run on the same premises.

According to Rajagopalan, unrecognised nursery and primary schools have mushroomed


in the past decade, primarily driven by the demand generated by the proliferation of
matriculation schools. The Tamil Nadu Elementary Education Act does not permit
primary education in the English medium. Under the Act, primary education shall be only
in the Tamil medium. Thus, the matriculation schools needed English medium primary
schools to feed them with pupils. This led to the mushrooming of private nursery and
primary schools - some even in one room of a small apartment.
The government set up the S.V. Chittibabu Commission in 1993 to study the proliferation
of unrecognised primary schools in the State. It prepared a code for nursery and primary
schools, which had no statutory backing. According to Rajagopalan, even this code was
practised more in the breach. When schools were asked to register under the code, most
of them simply refused to do so saying that they did not want to be monitored.

The government, after the Kumbakonam tragedy last year, had been asking schools that
do not comply with norms to do so. According to Rajagopalan, the government did not
pursue this seriously all these years for want of public schools to accommodate the rising
demand for nursery and primary education in the English medium. According to him,
there are today over 4,000 private matriculation schools outside government control. The
number of nursery and primary schools would be over 20,000. The government, in a bid
to free itself from the responsibility of providing schooling for all, encouraged such
private schools to begin with.

THE latest State government move to close down unapproved nursery and primary
schools has set off panic among parents who have paid donations and fees for their wards
in the unapproved schools. This is accentuated with other schools closing admissions.
Several schools awaiting renewal of approval have all but laid siege to the Directorate of
Primary Education.

On June 3, the Directorate of Primary Education issued a circular to all nursery and
primary schools seeking government approval to submit on time documents such as
building ownership details, sanitary certificate, and the no-objection certificate from the
Fire and Rescue Departments. The 14-point circular says that the number of students
should not exceed the limit mentioned in the register, no other unapproved building
should exist in the premises, and no combustible material should be present on the
campus. It insists that the kindergarten classes must be conducted on the ground floor,
there should be separate toilets for girls and boys, and the playground ownership
certificate from the Sub-Registrar must be sent to the Education Department.

On June 5, Christdas, on behalf of the nursery and primary schools, appealed to the
government to extend the time limit to get the approval and also to relax certain norms
such as allowing the Chennai Corporation's playgrounds to be used by matriculation and
nursery schools. He made it clear that the association would not help schools that flouted
norms deliberately.

On June 8, responding to the appeal, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa extended the time till the
end of August for the nursery and primary schools to comply with the norms. "This,"
Jayalalithaa said in a statement, "was to obviate any hardship and dislocation to the
children and parents." She also said that adequate time had been given to schools to
comply with requirements such as ensuring the stability of buildings and replacing
thatched structures with non-inflammable materials. In April 2005, the managements had
been asked to comply with the norms and get the necessary approvals before the schools
reopened. Yet, some institutions had not taken the necessary steps, she said. She added:
"Ignoring such regulations will seriously compromise the safety of the children who are
admitted in these schools. This is totally unacceptable." According to her, most schools
have now realised the importance of complying with regulations and are taking concrete
steps.

On June 9, following the three-month extension given by the government, the Madras
High Court dismissed a batch of petitions filed by the unapproved nursery and primary
schools against the implementation of the order to close all such schools.

There is no doubt that schools without the required basic minimum safety norms and
infrastructure need to be closed. But the government has to ensure that children from
such schools are accommodated in other schools. According to educationists, the
government should also see an opportunity in this and set up more quality public schools.