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A visionary initiative

History was scripted on Wednesday with the inauguration of model high schools established by the Assam Government in tea garden areas

A visionary initiative

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  26 May 2022 3:15 AM GMT

History was scripted on Wednesday with the inauguration of model high schools established by the Assam Government in tea garden areas for the first time since Independence and in 180 years of the tea industry. Speedy completion of construction work of 96 model high schools in tea garden areas demonstrated the strong determination and will of the State Government to bring an end to decades of deprivation of children of tea garden workers from quality education. History maker is the Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who proposed the establishment of these model high schools in tea garden areas in the Assam budget for 2017-18 presented by him as the then Finance Minister. Foundation stones were laid in 2020 and construction work gained momentum with Chief Minister Sarma undertaking periodic reviews of the progress. Each school built for Rs 1.19 crore will cater to four adjacent tea gardens and thus these 96 model high schools will cover students belonging to tea tribes in 50% of major tea gardens in the state. This will go a long way in bringing down dropout rates among them and encouraging them to nurture dreams of higher education. The enrolment of nearly 15,000 students in these new schools speaks volumes about the enthusiasm triggered by the visionary initiative. The state proposes to start 22 more such model high schools in the next academic year which will cover 88 more tea gardens. Even after 75 years of independence, the tea gardens in the state had only lower primary and upper primary schools and a large number of them were in dilapidated condition which is a key factor behind high dropout rates and a large number of children belonging to tea tribe communities not completing their school education. Apart from children of garden workers, these schools will also facilitate students belonging to other communities living in the vicinity of these gardens to avail quality education which will also go a long way in cultural exchanges and strengthening the bond among different communities. The authorities of these schools, respective inspectors of schools and school management committees have their task cut out to shape these schools into centres of excellence. The State Government has appointed 738 teachers in these new schools which has ensured a healthy pupil-teacher ratio of 22: 1. The Education Department ensures the regular training of the teachers will be crucial to achieving the stated objectives. The State government has plans to set up 81 more model high schools in tea garden areas and upgrade all newly established schools to higher secondary schools. While addressing the orientation programme for principals and teachers of these model high schools the Chief Minister shared his vision of developing these schools as a successful model for the rest of the country to follow. Earmarking required budget allocations will ensure timely upgrade of these new schools which is also a requirement under the New Education Policy. The Education Department initiating measures for timely recruitment of required teachers for higher secondary classes, and expediting the work of required infrastructure, including science laboratories will facilitate the smooth continuation of students of newly established high schools to higher secondary classes and simultaneously prepare for higher education in technical and professional courses. It is heartening to know that the construction of additional classrooms to facilitate higher secondary classes will start soon. The Tea Board has schemes to sanction capital grants to the authorities of an educational institution (Primary/Middle/Secondary/Higher Secondary Schools or equivalent and colleges) for the construction of school and college buildings. The grant also covers the construction of a hostel, auditorium, gymnasium, laboratory, playground etc. Eligibility criteria for such grants stipulate that the institution should preferably be in a tea-growing area and cater sufficiently to the needs of the tea garden workers. The minimum percentage of students from the families of tea garden workers should be at least 25%. An institution applying for the grant should have been recognized preferably permanently by a University/Board of Secondary Education, Director of Public Instruction or by an approved authority. The Education Department can explore channelling such grants given by the Tea Board for these newly established high schools to create additional infrastructure like an auditorium, smart classrooms, sports infrastructure, libraries etc. The poor economic condition of downtrodden tea garden workers supporting their children to pursue their goal of higher education is a huge challenge. Constitution of a Cabinet Committee by the State Government to dwell upon the issue of minimum wages of garden workers is laudable but volatility in tea prices and climate change impact on tea production finding a pragmatic solution to the issue of wage revision is easier said than done and will require the cabinet committee to think out of the box. Nevertheless, the success of model high schools will shape a new ecosystem for garden workers and hold out hope for the uplift of their household income.

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