Assam government starting the construction of 119 model high schools in tea garden areas of the state is an epoch-making move. Once completed, these schools will change the education scenario in tea garden areas by curbing the high dropout rates of children of workers at the secondary level of schooling. One of the primary reasons of high dropout rates in these secondary level in garden areas is non-availability of secondary schools within the walking distance. The dropout rate is higher among girl-children of tea garden areas. Because of poor economic condition, the garden workers cannot afford to send their children to private schools even if there are any available nearer to their colonies as compared the government schools. Lack of education pushes the majority of dropout garden students either to end up becoming a daily wage earner or become a garden worker when their parents retire or migrate to urban growth centres within the state or outside in search of greener pastures.
Thus, the vicious cycle of poverty and backwardness continues because of lack of access to education. The garden workers belonging to Adivasi communities have been making huge contribution to the state's economy by their hard labour in the state tea sector which account for more than 50 per cent of the country's total tea production. It is unfortunate that the previous governments had not done anything worth noticing over the past more than seven decades of independence to improve the access to education among garden workers due to which the tea-tribe communities lagged far behind than other communities. Lack of secondary and higher education also deprived the garden youth from jobs in government as well as private sectors. Currently no tea garden in the state has high school. There are over 800 large tea gardens in the state which have around five lakh permanent workers and an equal number of temporary workers. There are elementary schools run by garden managements.
The state government will spend Rs 1.20 crore for construction of each of these schools in garden areas. Allocation of Rs 142.50 crore to the Public Works Department for setting up of the schools is expected to ensure timely completion of the construction works. These schools are expected to start functioning from April 2021 when the new academic session begins. The State government must ensure timely monitoring and evaluation of the progress of construction work of every single high school being set up. The organizations among the tea-tribes communities including the student bodies should also keep a strong vigil over the construction work so that every rupee spent for setting up of the schools is judiciously utilized. These organizations should also undertake awareness drive among the garden workers' families by running house-to-house campaign to send their children to these schools. The State government has announced that these model schools will have modern classrooms and amenities for teachers and students. Emphasis should be laid on setting up quality science laboratories to imbibe scientific temperament and to make learning science and mathematics easier and enjoyable for garden students. On its part the Education department must ensure that setting up of the schools is followed up with timely appointment of teachers and other staff so that classes can be started immediately after the construction is over.
The National Educational Policy, 2020 has laid down clear guidelines in this regard. "Once infrastructure and participation are in place, ensuring quality will be the key in retention of students, so that they (particularly, girls and students from other socio-economically disadvantaged groups) do not lose interest in attending school. This will require a system of incentives for deploying teachers with knowledge of the local language to areas with high dropout rates, as well as overhauling the curriculum to make it more engaging and useful," the policy states. The objectives of setting up of these model schools will be achieved fully when the students passing out from these schools also have access to the quality colleges, technical institutions and institutions providing professional higher education within accessible distance. The State government should also focus on setting up Industrial Training Institutes and skill development training institutes in garden areas so that garden youth can acquire skills that will guarantee their employment as skilled personnel and open up a world of opportunities. Setting up institutes of tea management will also help educated tea garden youth to nurture their knowledge on tea cultivation passed on from one generation to another generation to play a key role of stakeholders in better management of gardens to make it sustainable in the face of tough competitions from other tea producing countries. Access to better and continuing education will reduce over dependence of workers' families on tea garden jobs. Setting up of the model schools is a giant leap for education in tea garden areas.