O ne important field of activity that has long been a victim of governmental neglect is education. And despite our rather diffident claims to be a welfare state of sorts, we have fallen far short of a welfare state’s responsibilities in respect of education. There are far too many single-teacher elementary schools in rural areas, and many more primary and secondary schools are pathetically short of teachers. Parents of school children in rural areas who are uble to afford textbooks for their children often have to watch helplessly as their children drop out of school. At the secondary level too, an acute shortage of teachers and lack of classrooms have made education a difficult undertaking. As such, given the existing conditions, some announcements made by Assam’s Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday on certain limited initiatives to make education a less painful undertaking will be welcomed by teachers, students and parents alike.
Sarma announced on Sunday that 11,000 teachers would be appointed by January 2017. He also announced that 700 higher secondary schools that have no principals will have principals appointed before Maagh Bihu, that is, before mid-January 2017. He also announced a scheme of free textbooks for poor children. A significant remark of the Education Minister was that there was a time when the appointment of teachers was done on political considerations. He said that things had changed and that teachers were being appointed solely on merit. This is as things should be, but we are not entirely convinced that the claimed methods of teacher recruitment on merit have been entirely flawless. There has been criticism of the test in use for evaluating the quality of teachers known as the TET. The TET mode of teacher recruitment has evoked criticism even within the Education department. The TET mode of teacher selection is not considered entirely satisfactory by a lot of people though people tend to accept it as a more preferable altertive to not having any recruitment test for teachers at all. And what is not a very healthy development at all is that the State government should be taking up the issue relaxing the educatiol qualifications of candidates with the Centre so that 27,000 fresh appointments of teachers can be made in the next few months. This is a step towards diluting the quality and qualifications of teachers that should not be approved either by the authorities or by the people.
There is also the news of the government approving the addition of three new universities for Assam. The addition of new universities would be most welcome if they opened up new academic horizons for the people of the State. But if the new universities are merely going to replicate existing courses in the arts streams that have not proved particularly useful either to students or to the State, there should be more intense soul-searching about the need to have three more universities just because they will create a few more jobs for people. India is not a country that can afford the luxury of having the kind of liberal arts education at the postgraduate level that does not lead to placements. We still have to worry about the investments made by students on pursuing certain courses of studies that do not lead to jobs. We have to structure our educatiol planning in ways that courses will lead to employment opportunities—at least for a few more decades.