What is happening to primary schools in many parts of Assam is a blow not merely to primary education, but to literacy itself. We have long been lamenting the proliferation of one-teacher schools in the rural areas of Assam. It has come to light now that in districts like Dhubri, one-teacher schools are the norm, and that out of the 2,175 primary schools in the district, 301 schools do not have teachers according to the accepted norms for primary schools. Primary education in the district has become a farce of sorts because even in the large number of single-teacher schools, the teacher has several other duties beyond teaching such as looking after the midday meals, constructing or repairing classrooms and setting up urils and toilets for schoolchildren. One can easily appreciate that in schools where a teacher has to handle more than one class, no honest teaching can possibly take place.
This is an alarming situation because primary schools are where children learn their three Rs and become literate. Whether they become functiolly literate and become capable of reading fairly fast and of being able to learn on their own from what they read, is quite another matter. In fact, not many people who are obliged to drop out from school remain functiolly literate. However, the very ability to read even haltingly is a skill acquired at the primary level. As such, when primary schools do not function as they should, the government of the State is sabotaging literacy itself. And when a government that pretends to have achieved remarkable development in a decade-and-a-half fails the State in ensuring proper primary education, one can legitimately insist that no worthwhile development has taken place. Children who fail to become literate at the primary level tend to drop out of schools more readily than those who have learned something worthwhile in their primary schools. In the prevailing scerio of rural poverty, it is often not just the parents who decide that their children have not learned anything useful in their schools. The children themselves are capable of coming to such conclusions. They realize that they are uble to read with any degree of confidence, that they do not know their multiplication tables and that they are uble to write even their mes correctly. That is when they tend to concur with their parents’ decision that they have not learnt anything useful in their schools and might be better off learning from life and work. The tendency to drop out from learning experiences that are unpalatable and uninspiring become stronger day by day. And today, they are propped up by the illusory confidence that a cell phone and a calculator gives them. What if they have not learnt their tables? The buttons on the calculator will provide them the answers they need. What is they cannot write a letter? They can always express themselves over the cell phone. What they do not realize is the frustration that arises from the fact that they have themselves shut the doors on the opportunities that would have been there if they had got themselves educated. And since lack of educatiol qualifications does not come in the way of nursing great material ambitions, the temptation to resort to crime becomes stronger by the day. Adolescents even ratiolize crimil activities as a means of attaining their ambitions. A government that fails to do justice to primary and secondary education, and has no control over the fallout rate in our schools, cannot escape responsibility for the growing crime rate in the State that has a direct relationship with material aspirations which cannot be fulfilled except through money acquired a from hard work or crimil activity.