By Mukut Lochan Kalita and Tarun Dutta
Though the Right To Education (RTE) Act, 2009 came into force in 2010 itself, the scerio in Assam is not very encouraging even five years after its ectment. The State government took it’s time to develop the State rules and almost two years were spent in putting the systems in place. A few studies done by Actioid, Pratham and RTE Forum brought out many worrisome shortcomings in ensuring RTE in the schools.
While the State had the advantage of already implementing programmes like District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) and schemes like Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) and initiating some innovative teaching learning practices in certain schools and clusters, due to many systemic flaws and shortsighted policies as well corrupt practices by certain officials, the school education scerio in Assam is quite alarming today. Many children virtually remain out of school and many schools are almost dysfunctiol while more and more parents prefer to send their children to private schools. At times one gets the impression that the stakeholders are either only paying lip service to the RTE Act or, worse still, are not even aware of the real spirit of this historic piece of legislation granting elementary education as a free and compulsory right to all children of age between 6 years to 14 years in India.
The last few decades saw much action in educatiol reforms in the country. Post Jomtien and Dakar conferences, with India committing itself to the Millennium Development goals — universalization of Elementary Education became a major focus area.
If the Nineties was the decade of various experimental projects like Lok Jhumbish, Andhra Pradesh Primary Education Project (APPEP), Bihar Education Project (BEP), Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Project (UPBEP), District Primary Education Project etc., which targeted districts/regions identified as having low female literacy, the next decade went for the massive all encompassing effort, mely Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. The goals were more or less the same — to provide quality primary education (upto class V in earlier cases, while in SSA it was up to class VIII) to all the children, especially those coming from various disadvantaged groups.
In Assam, too, SSA was launched in 2001 along with rest of the country and the State mission which was coorditing the DPEP in nine districts of the state took over the SSA Mission.
The SSA completed ten years of its project period in 2011 and now SSA mission has taken over as the nodal agency for implementation of RTE Act. Meanwhile a new Rastriya Madhyamik Sikshya Abhiyan (RMSA), focusing on secondary education has also been launched.
To take stock of how far the SSA in Assam has progressed in almost two decades in the key areas of access, retention and quality improvement, we with support from Actioid, took up a study in 2011-12 focusing primarily on margilized groups in difficult areas. The districts of lbari, Dhemaji, Morigaon and Baksa were selected with special reference to communities like Mishing, Tiwa, Hazong, Bodo, Adivasis, both indigenous and immigrant Muslim, Bengali migrants, indigenous fishermen etc. and groups like margilized peasants, tea garden workers, manual wage earners and migrant laborers. We also made a point of visiting areas affected by flood, erosion, sand deposition and interacting with the affected people.
The study of the present situation and the challenges faced by the margilized groups provided us with quite significant insights. The major one being that there are different types of margilization or deprivation. If some communities have remained margilized for ages, there are others who suddenly find themselves in such unenviable situation due to factors beyond their control -— both tural and manmade.
We also observed that while the villages and remote habitations were getting exposed to many urbanizing trends, the small towns were rapidly acquiring all the urban characteristics. At the same time tural phenome (paradoxically sometimes result of various manmade “developmental” projects or efforts) like flood, erosion, sand deposition etc. too causes immense change to the lives of those affected. And more alarmingly both the impact as well as frequency of such “disasters” seem to have increased quite a lot in last 2-3 decades, leading to large scale and acute margilization in the State. We also observed that it was the traditiolly margilized communities like STs, SCs and minorities, who are more vulnerable to the latter types of phenome quite often.
Rapid change in ecology can have serious implications for the livelihoods and the lifestyles of the inhabitants in the process also impacting schooling of their children. Changed occupations and lifestyles demand a new set of skills and values. The education system has to be fully geared to provide that. Unfortutely, we felt, SSA — or for that matter the State Education department, was pathetically unequipped for, as well as, insensitive to such an alarming scerio.
(To be continued)
(Mukut Lochan Kalita is Convenor, RTE Forum for Assam. Tarun Dutta is Lecturer at Assam University, Diphu)