The LDF government has taken a step backward and decided not to rob school children of their summer vacation. This academic year, schools will close on March 31, and not on April 5 as was declared earlier.
The new closing date of April 5 was the upshot of the LDF Government's decision to increase the number of instructional days in schools to 210. For this to happen, the government had no choice but to push the annual school closing date from the traditional March 31 to April 5. This would have taken away five days from the summer vacation of school children.
On Wednesday, at a meeting of teachers' unions called by general education minister V Sivankutty, it was decided to bring down the annual instructional days to 205 from 210. A compromise formula that seems to have placated the teachers' unions that were deeply agitated by the reform of the academic calendar.
The unions, especially the CPM-affiliated All Kerala School Teachers' Union (AKSTU), had called the government's latest reforms of the academic calendar as "impractical" and wanted it rolled back. The AKSTU even said that the decision was taken without taking teachers into confidence.
The Congress-affiliated union, Kerala Pradesh School Teachers' Association (KPSTA), had also condemned the reforms. The KPSTA wanted the minister to shed what it termed his "adamant" ways.
The instructional days were increased to 210 not just by taking five days from the summer vacation but also by declaring 13 Saturdays as working days. Now, after discussions with unions, it has been brought down to 205.
Nonetheless, the government has no plans to sapre the 13 working Saturdays. "It is baseless to say that all Saturdays of the academic year have been converted into working days. Of the 52 Saturdays in an academic year, only 13 will be working days," general education minister V Sivankutty said. The minister said that this was done because existing laws and various court verdicts had stipulated that there should be five working days a week. "Saturdays have been made working days only in those weeks that do not have five working days," the minister said.
The minister had consistently argued that the government was only trying to implement what was laid down in the Right to Education Act. The RTE Act, 2009, has set 200 working days for the first to fifth standards and 220 working days for sixth to eighth standards. The Kerala Education Rules, too, stipulate the same number of days. "There shall ordinarily be a minimum of 220 instructional days excluding the days of examinations in every school year," it says. The government settled for 210.
Even this had invited widespread condemnation. Here is what writer N S Madhavan wrote in the Malayala Manorama. "In a country like Finland, whose education system our minister said should be the model for Kerala, the school working days should not exceed 190. And see what we are doing. By reducing summer vacations and making Saturdays working days we are struggling to reach 210 days."
In the last academic year, 2022-23, there were 202 instructional days (198 normal dys plus four Saturdays). This ongoing year, after the latest revision, it will be 205 days (192 normal days and 13 Saturdays).