A half-page Assam government advertisement on its so-called “Major successes of Education Department” published in the English dailies of the State deserves closer attention than it is likely to get. Among the major achievements of the government of Assam in the Secondary Education sector from 2001 to 2015 the advertisement lists the increase in the number of secondary institutions from 2,661 in 2001 to 4,132 in 2015. This represents an increase of about 55.28 per cent in 14 years. During the same period, the number of madrassa institutions increased from 74 in 2001 to 401 in 2015—an increase of 441.89. The stark difference in the increase of madrassa institutions, generally restricted to children of one community, as compared to the increase in secondary institutions would seem very significant given the fact that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is in the habit of talking about how secular the Congress is compared to “commul” political parties like the BJP. [We recall his recent statement that he might not have regretted Himanta Biswa Sarma, leaving the Congress to join a similar political party rather than a commul one like the BJP.] One judges the true ture of political parties not by the ritualistic statements that its leaders make from time to time, but rather from actual policy decisions implemented on the ground. The 441.89 per cent increase in the number of madrassa institutions over a period of 14 years prompts us to ask his government for a statement on the number of primary schools that we had in 2001 and the number in 2015. People will readily note the glaring difference in the increase of madrassa institutions (441.89 per cent) compared to the increase in the number of secondary institutions during the same period (55.28 per cent). One must relate such data with the data on the increase in population during the same period. And that is why they will want to know about the extent of increase in primary schools during the same period. Going by deeds and policy implementations, it is not very difficult to assess how commul the Congress can get when it comes to devices to win the illegal but ready votes of migrants from Bangladesh.
Be that as it may, the mere construction of school buildings is no guarantee that the desired level and quality of teaching goes on in these schools. What is even more significant perhaps is that the number of teachers and employees in secondary schools has gone up from 38,675 in 2001 to 53,500 in 2015. This represents an increase of just 45.87 per cent in 14 years. And this figure also includes the non-teaching employees of secondary schools as well. We are not told whether the increase in the number of teachers includes the number of teachers in the madrassa institutions also.
What has to be well appreciated is that development in education cannot be measured in terms of the number of new schools started or the increase in the number of children or teachers during this span of 14 years. We are aware of the large number of primary schools in Assam that are single-room schools are run by a single teacher. And there are many rural schools where there are no teachers, even though there may be people to cook the midday meal for schoolchildren. So we do have the bizarre situation of schools that provide some kind of meals to children, even if they cannot provide any education at all! No government can claim to make up for the lack of an acceptable quality of education merely by providing scholarships to meritorious children in the below the poverty line (BPL) group or by taking 2,500 secondary level students on sightseeing trips to New Delhi and Agra and calling such exercises Gyan Bikash Yatras. The real test of development in education is the quality of education provided at all levels and the ability to ensure that the fundamental right to education can be exercised with right to quality education and not just the ritual of being able to go to a building that is called a school. That there has been an alarming deterioration in standards of education at all levels in the State should be very clear from the number of students who prefer to go outside the State for tertiary education as soon as they have cleared their school examitions. The State government has to acknowledge responsibility for maintaining acceptable standards of education at all levels. It cannot do this if it has not been able to pay salaries of teachers for over 39 months. It cannot ensure any level of education if it cannot accept responsibility for the deaths of at least two teachers who were deprived of their salaries for years together. What makes such tragedies far more poignt is the fact that the treatment of teachers is highly discrimitory in respect of their conditions of service, their emoluments and the very basic guarantee that they will receive their salaries regularly every month. One cannot think of any other kind of employment in the State where employees are treated with such grave injustice. This is an issue that needs to be taken up like a crusade by the newspapers and television channels of the State until the State government is brought to its knees for practising such unethical and unconstitutiol discrimition against school teachers of the State alone. Picking on the most defenceless, vulnerable and civil section of society for acts of such sadism (by an elected government) is the meanest form of bullying that one can think of.
Actually, there is little to be surprised at the quality of education in our schools. The salary structure of school teachers is such that only the least qualified, the least motivated and the least intelligent in our society are available for recruitment as teachers. One only has to make a comparison between the emoluments of teachers in the private schools and the pittance being paid to teachers of government schools in the State to assess the kind of teachers that we are likely to get for our government schools. Very often we get just the dregs. And dregs cannot provide quality education.