One recalls former Assam Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma pointing to the abysmal state of primary education in the State as he made a statement in the last budget session of the State Legislative Assembly saying there are over 2,000 single-teacher primary schools in the State – all State-run schools. He had also pointed to the large number of vacancies in teaching jobs. What has been of abiding concern is the disinterest of successive State governments to work out a meaningful and sustainable education policy in sync with the demands of the time. The Sarbananada Sonowal government’s gunatsav initiative – to assess the state of teaching and learning in government schools – has been lauded by many. The argument for is that at long last Dispur has woken up to the education imperatives and is desirous of bringing about a paradigm shift in the way State-run schools conduct themselves, especially in rural areas where the only options for education of children are dilapidated State-run school buildings where students get ‘educated’ under the ‘guidance’ of teachers who are not trained to teach in a way modern school teaching is conducted to produce employable human resource; a huge majority of them are teachers not out of choice but due to compulsion as they are misfits elsewhere. Given the disconcerting reality, one wonders whether the much-vaunted gunatsav has yielded the desired results so as to make the State take any leap at the foundational level towards it being the ‘education hub’ of the entire Southeast Asian region as the former State Education Minister had woven a dream around when he was addressing a university convocation a couple of months back.
In Assam, as also in the rest of the northeastern part of the country, primary education – and to a large extent, secondary education too – in government schools is held hostage to ideas that have outlived their purposes. This, despite the fact that poor people in rural areas have no access to quality private schools to get their children educated due to the cost factor, apart from non-availability of such schools in such areas. The ostentation of initiatives such as gunatsav is notorious for transience as are all pompous government initiatives driven by populism with little substance to make them meaningful in the long run. Things might be a bit different in advanced States such as Gujarat and in the South, but in Assam the reality of most of the government schools, especially in far-flung areas where the need for education is far more vital than in others, is quite like what Indian-origin Nobel laureate in Literature VS Naipaul said in his remarkable book India: A Wounded Civilization: that the reality of government schools in villages in India is of “pupils in rags, unwashed, their hair red from sun and malnutrition, and made stiff and blond with dust”. The government cannot dismiss the conspicuousness of poverty in such areas where government schools are meant for being growth-drivers by virtue of them being knowledge-generators but that are mostly in a shambles, with teachers having not to bother at all about punctuality and attendance, nor about serious and sincere teaching, and with little, poverty-hit children having to rely on a misdirected education regime not responding to their needs and aspirations for a better tomorrow.
Is the incumbent Assam Education Minister concerned? From where the former minister left he has to trudge a radical trajectory, beginning at the foundation – primary school and schooling. It will be difficult journey, given the systemic rot of several years.