By Mukut Lochan Kalita and Tarun Dutta
Right to Education in Assam will remain a fundamental right on only paper so long as its delivery mechanism — the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) remains idequate and faulty. With the major challenges before school education in the State, the demand is for up-to-date curriculum and quality text-books, effective classroom teaching, marks-based evaluation and other facilities to eble pass-outs to compete in the job market.
Our study made us feel that SSA has failed to reach the most interior areas in Assam and connect with the most vulnerable groups even in terms of access, not to mention of retention and quality improvement. One felt that SSA somehow reaches usually those places which are reachable while the unreachable often remain still underdeveloped. It was unfortute to find that there were still places where the system failed even in providing access of government schools for children of many margilized communities, even after ten years of launching of SSA.
Lack of sufficient teachers is a major factor affecting education in the State. The number of single teacher schools with high enrollment is most alarming. In many cases even the schools earlier having sufficient teachers have been rendered dysfunctiol due to not filling up the vacancies. Though we learnt that further appointment of teachers remained banned by High Court order since 2001, it was really surprising to find the government not taking adequate steps to convince the honorable court about the absolute necessity of starting the recruitment process in the long ten years.
This single factor of not having adequate teachers has negated most of the positive interventions of DPEP or SSA in the education sector. For example all measures for quality improvement as well as access and retention such as trainings, monthly meetings, Cluster Resource Centers (CRCs), Mid-Day Meal (MDM) etc. fail in such single teacher schools. A CRC coorditor from a single teacher school cannot do much justice to children to his school, let alone provide academic support to other schools in his cluster.
As for Mid-Day Meal, the scheme is not having its desired impact -— rather it has become counterproductive in many cases with allegations and counter allegations about large-scale corruption, rice not reaching schools in time or being of inferior quality or no money provided for its cooking.
We got the impression that though SSA has significant achievements in terms of hardware, providing infrastructure and facilities to schools, but the same can’t be said about the software such as availability of sufficient qualified and motivated teachers.
Many complained that even support visits from SSA authorities happen only in places where vehicles can go. Even schools/habitations 2-3 kms away from motorable roads remained unvisited, and hence neglected, for years. This seems to be the tragic story of development in Assam in last ten years.
There have been some other alarming trends affecting the educatiol scerio in recent past. First among them is the steep fall in enrollment in many government schools. Linked with this is the mushrooming of private schools, including in Assamese medium, even in rural areas. Many parents probably, rightly or wrongly, feel that the private schools equipped their children better for the competitive market.
This has led to other alarming tendencies. In certain cases the unpleasant truth that came out was — it is only the very poor who still send their children to the government schools, having no other options.
However there were also many counter examples to the popular myth that government schools in the urban setting are losing out to the private schools. There were a number of government schools in urban areas which were having very high enrollment and functioning well.
There were have been some achievements by the SSA too. The civil works has been a strong component of SSA, evidence of which could be seen in most of the districts studied. There were also schemes like Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS), bridge courses, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), community volunteer scheme etc. The EGS centers, especially, has been one of the popular and successful interventions for margilized groups. However here too, there has been much bungling by decision makers which may have very serious repercussions in the coming days.
We got the impression that even those involved in the delivery mechanism at various levels, feel quite overburdened and at times, exploited victims of a heartless system. They are expected to work outside normal office hours even at night or in holidays. But there is no compensation in terms of remuneration or other allowances. In case of the contractual employees there is neither provision for health nor retirement benefits. In fact, they do not have even job security.
The biggest weakness of the education system in Assam, we felt, is that it is very slow to react to changing situations and demands. Responses at every level always come very late, sometimes never, and at times in an ippropriate manner. The schools, too, suffer from lack of a rapid response mechanism. In private schools if there is some drawback, the magement can respond immediately, while in the government system the long chain from head teacher through BEEO up to DEEO office will take despairingly long time to respond.
(Mukut Lochan Kalita is Convenor, RTE Forum for Assam. Tarun Dutta is Lecturer at Assam University, Diphu)