The Axom Xahitya Xabha (AXX) has been much enthused by a recent order of the Allahabad High Court, asking the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary to ensure that children of government officials, functiories in local bodies, politicians and members of the judiciary should send their wards to government schools. Directing compliance within six months, the court commented that only such a step would make public officials ‘serious enough to look into the requirements of these schools and ensure that they are run in good condition’. According to the AXX, this court directive is a call of the times, to which the Assam government too must lend its ears, considering the pitiful condition of government schools in the State. The picture flashed by a local daily of a teacher and students in a government primary school, cowering under umbrellas in class with the roof leaking during the rains, speaks a thousand words of how our government schools are functioning. In a country guaranteeing elementary education as a fundamental right to its citizens, Assam has been badly floundering in providing free and compulsory education to all between 6 to 14 years of age. The State’s primary school infrastructure remains ramshackle at best. Now the shameful bungling by the Elementary Education Directorate in bringing out the appointment list of TET-passed lower primary teachers — has added insult to injury. Glaring anomalies in age and qualifications of suspect candidates, the flouting of reservation policy — all reinforce suspicions of malpractices galore in the selection of primary teachers. In the coming days, if suspect teachers teach in our crumbling schools, the morale of students and what they mage to learn in class — can well be imagined. So will our politicians and bureaucrats ever dare to send their wards to such schools, even if there is a court order?
The Allahabad High Court’s judgement has attracted some controversy as well. The court by itself cannot make it mandatory for government employees to admit their wards in government schools. Only the government, backed by the state legislature, can have such powers — but this will surely be questioned on grounds that guardians and wards have full freedom to select any school of their choice. Any regulation directing public servants not to enrol their wards in private schools, is certain to be challenged in court. The Jammu and Kashmir Education minister has reacted to the Allahabad High Court’s directive by saying that the fundamental call is to make the public education system such that it would attract people to it as a first choice, so that he will ‘not have to coerce people to do so’. It is in this spirit that the High Court’s order should be read, because it has raised a very vital issue. Criticising the abysmal condition of government primary schools in UP which are catering to the needs of 90 per cent of its children, the single judge bench of Justice Sudhir Agarwal commented: ‘It is not difficult to understand why the condition of these schools have not improved...There is no real involvement of the administration with these schools. Any person who has some capacity and adequate finces sends his child/children to elite and semi-elite primary schools, whether it is the district collector or the police chief or any other government servant’. Disposing of a bunch of petitions challenging the appointment of teachers in primary schools, the court also castigated the basic education department for its ‘lack of accountability and casual approach’ in mindlessly and negligently amending rules. Now, does this not ring a bell? The parallels with the situation in Assam is too obvious to ignore.