The Sarbanda Sonowal government of Assam seems to have realized the folly of letting private schools, which are mushrooming across the State unimpeded, function in their own whims and fancies. Of late, the State has been witness to a whole lot of so-called educatiol entrepreneurs whose idea of setting up a school is remarkably fanciful: one, they go as grand social engineering project makers because a school, needless to say, is definitely a huge contribution to society, especially when the society is starved of education; and two, when the fees charged from students are random and exorbitant, it turns out to be a great business proposition too. In other words, in that scheme of things, setting up a school is just like setting up a mall, so to say. Grander the school in its look and what they call ‘infrastructure’, more alluring it is to guardians. The school is branded ‘smart’. It does not matter what quality teachers are endowed with, what is the quality of the teaching-learning methodologies deployed there amid the sheer sheen of glass walls and marble floors, and whether there is anything at all that can help engender a quality human resource – skilled, competent, competitive, and, more importantly, both knowledge-centric and knowledge-generating. What matters is profit. For, it is just another business on earth in the me of some bizarre social engineering project.
Therefore, one would welcome the endeavour of the Sonowal government to crack down on the erring private schools of the State by putting in place a law to that effect. The draft of the proposed legislation is almost over, State Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has informed the media. This is to put a stumbling block of sorts before such private schools’ march to business glory as they think they have every right to charge whatever fee tariff criss-crosses their minds while they pay their teachers – many of whom are highly qualified, and competent too – very poorly; so much so that in many private schools laying claim to educatiol glories, there do exist teachers whose salaries will shock even a hotel receptionist as the latter earns a little bit more, if not far more. Yes, this is a reality; you can check out. Hence the law in the offing is a much-needed one. Remember, we are dealing with an issue as vital as education in the 21st century in a society that aspires to be a knowledge society. There must, therefore, be regulation of a meaningful kind – pragmatic and students-and-education-centric.
It has been learnt that two crucial components of the proposed Bill will be exorbitant fees and poor salaries to teachers. Other issues such as social responsibilities of private schools, reservation of seats for economically underprivileged but meritorious students, and concession or waiver of fees for poor students will also be looked into. The idea is indeed good – and whose time too has indeed come. But parents have apprehensions. As reported by this daily yesterday, many of them have alleged that an influential lobby of private schools – of course big business players for whom education is one of the safest and most lucrative businesses – is using its clout at Dispur, and “under such circumstances, we have doubts how much toughness the government can show to regulate private schools”, as a guardian has said, anxiety writ large over his face. If the allegation is true, it is serious. Very, very serious. These parents would now do well to knuckle down to gather solid proof of any such lobby’s existence at Dispur – to me and shame them, along with the political-bureaucratic blend out to hijack the cause of education in a State where, in fact, education must have been a major election issue, which, very unfortutely, it has never been.