One thing that has come to light in the wake of the three phases of gutsav in Assam is the palpability of the rot that has crept into the elementary school system in the State. These three phases have been undertaken to assess the quality of learning in government schools in the State. What is clear is the lack of basic amenities that form the hallmark of any functioning and meaningful education system. On Tuesday, State Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma came up with a startling announcement: that over 35,000 schools in the State were found lacking in basic amenities such as electricity, toilets and proper drinking water facilities. This cuts a terribly sorry figure. These are government-run schools, with the government presiding over the destinies of lakhs of children in rural areas – mostly from poor and backward families that repose faith in their elected government to provide their wards with such facilities that ought to be their right as part of the larger framework of the right to education. But this is just not happening. Just think of those helpless and hapless children having to negotiate their educatiol life without having to get electricity, which means they are forced to ‘learn’ their lessons without fans to provide them relief during sultry days – which is sheer torture. Then add to this terrible fact of life two more variants of what one may well call education atrocity: they do not have toilets, nor can they drink safe water to quench their thirst, all because there are no such facilities at all. This is the uncanny and unnerving story in over 35,000 government-run schools in 13 districts across the State. And yet this government, which calls itself progressive and full of radical, innovative ideas, is never tired of telling us that the State is progressing well in its steady education stride!
But that the gutsav survey was a good thing to have happened after no such initiatives to get in touch with the education reality of the State all these years, cannot be gainsaid. The bleak picture apart, we now know where things stand as far as the much-vaunted education story goes. Sarma sounded optimistic when he said, “Despite these problems, gutsav has been able to improve the academic environment and learning outcome of the schools dramatically. The number of schools scoring the highest A+ grade has gone up from nine per cent in the second phase to 20 per cent in the third phase.” His claim is that there is a positive trend of constant improvement as only six per cent of the schools surveyed were able to get A+ grade of the assessment held last year. He has also informed the media that enrolment in government-run schools has gone up by 28,000 this year and that a bill is in the offing to regulate private schools in the State; these private institutions, which are mushrooming everywhere, have earned the notoriety of charging exorbitant fees without putting the right infrastructure in place, which is nothing but absolute injustice to young students who, with many a merry dream in their eyes, join such institutions for quality but affordable education.
The crux of the matter is that the much-hyped survey fashioned as gutsav is about discovering gu – quality – in students in government-run schools and grooming it further for an educatiolly enlightened and empowered society to take root in the State crying for quality education. For such programmes to be meaningful beyond the rituals as witnessed generally, the government must sit with educationists and civil society leaders to evolve the right paradigm of elementary education here. This is possible. Whether the government will be jerked into such meaningful education action, whose imperative cannot be overemphasized, remains to be seen.
Where to Put the Aliens?
The Centre has made a significant disclosure. It has ruled out the possibility of India signing another agreement with Bangladesh on the issue of illegal Bangladeshis settled freely in India, especially in Assam that forms their best living and breeding space in the country. In a Rajya Sabha reply, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju has said that there is no proposal to ink another agreement with Bangladesh because the Government of India already has extensive engagement with the Government of Bangladesh under various bilateral mechanisms like the Joint Consultative Commission, talks at the levels of Foreign Secretaries and Home Secretaries of the two countries, Joint Working Group on Security and Border Magement, Joint Task Forces on Human Trafficking, fake currency notes and such other issues. Of all the issues of the day, there is no denying that illegal immigration from the neighbouring country to Assam is of monstrous proportion, thanks of course to the now-scrapped IM(DT) Act and vote-bank politics of parties like the Congress that render a ‘secular’ hue to the humongous issue. When such parties tend to treat illegal Bangladeshis as Indian ‘minorities’ for cheap electoral mileage, much of the task of these aliens to get settled here and prosper under a perverse ‘secular’ umbrella gets simplified. But the million-dollar question is: Given the fact that there do exist illegal Bangladeshis in Assam whose number is enormous, and that they not only do the vanishing act after them being declared as foreigners but some of them have also shown the temerity of trying to register themselves in the updated NRC, where will the Centre put these aliens in such a huge number within the present engagement with the neighbouring country? Surely they cannot be packed up and thrown away randomly? So where is the mechanism in place? Or how effective such engagement has been, if there is any pragmatic engagement at all – to the aid of the endangered indigenous populace of Assam and the rest of the Northeast in general?