There is no denying that primary education provides the base for all future education of an individual. The quality of one’s primary education determines how far the individual can go in acquiring good higher education and the professiol skills required for his/her future. In fact, the very character of a society is determined by the quality of primary education that its citizens receive. Unfortutely, in recent years, the quality of primary education in government schools of Assam has shown an alarming decline in two respects. The number of schools (particularly in rural areas) that have only one teacher has increased. Mainly as a consequence of this, the quality of primary education, generally determined by the amount of time a teacher is able to devote to individual pupils, has undergone a very serious decline. It is unfortute that this should have happened so soon after the State government had organized the Gunotsav celebrations in 12,286 primary schools in eight districts of Assam. Last Saturday, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Education Minister of the State, presented what could be called the initial report card of the Gunotsav exercise in these eight districts. It comes as a proof of the pathetic degradation of the primary schools run by the government. The tattered condition of primary education in the entire State has been presented also by the Assam Sarvasiksha Abhiyan Mission. The latest report submitted by the Mission states that even now 4,621 primary schools of the State are run by single teachers. Of these, 4,595 are lower primary schools and 26 are upper primary schools. What is significant is that in 38 per cent of the lower primary schools and 22 per cent of the upper primary schools there are more teachers than needed for the number of pupils. The Education Minister stated that 1,085 primary schools of these eight districts are single-teacher schools. turally, this gives rise to the question as to the kind of primary education that the children studying in the 4,621 single-teacher primary schools of the State are getting. An even more alarming fact is that the number of students getting enrolled in government-run primary schools is declining year after year. Given the tural increase in population, one would have expected the number of children in primary schools to increase every year. As against this, there has been an incredible increase in the number of pupils getting enrolled in private primary schools. The Sarvasiksha Abhiyan Mission report reveals that in the year 2016-17, even though the number of students in government primary schools was about 44.6 lakh, the number of students in private primary schools increased by 4.1 lakh in just one year. The number of students in private primary schools was 6.8 lakh in 2015-16. This number increased to 10.9 lakh in 2016-17. On the other hand, in 434 government primary schools there is not a single student. The report submitted to the Centre states that out of the primary schools without any students, 396 are lower primary schools and 38 are upper primary schools. What is particularly significant is that at a time when the number of students in private primary schools has increased by leaps and bounds, more and more government primary schools find themselves without students.
Regrettably, those at the helm of affairs seem to imagine that this situation can be tackled by supporting private primary schools that are increasingly confined to urban areas. This is a way of ignoring the realities of life in a country like ours where it is the rural population that ought to count the most both because of the numbers and the fact that over the years children in our villages have become a disadvantaged lot in terms of education. The right course of action in the present circumstances is to explore every possible means of improving primary education in all government schools and to ensure that there are no single-teacher primary schools left in the State after 2020. Senior government officers who are in a position to send their own children to expensive private schools in cities and towns have a moral duty to think of the kind of education rural children are getting in single-teacher primary schools in the villages.