Primary education in Assam is in dire straits, however hard the Tarun Gogoi government tries to put on a gloss on it. State government-run primary schools are facing a shortage of more than 1.1 lakh teachers, which is badly affecting teaching in 42,962 primary schools where around 40 lakh students are studying. To meet guidelines of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the student-teacher ratio in the lower primary level has to be 30:1. But alarming figures shared with the media by the primary teachers forum Asom Rajyik Prathamik Sikshak Sanmilani recently, show that thousands of schools in the State do not even have one teacher each for the five classes in the primary section. There are 1,200 primary schools running with just a single teacher while around 150 primary schools have no teacher at all. The overall average is less than three teachers in each lower primary school of Assam. If five teachers are appointed to teach from classes I to V in all the lower primary schools in the State, the total requirement of primary teachers will be about 2,11,500. But the number of primary school teachers is not even half this required number, with a staggering 1,11,500 posts of primary teachers lying vacant till date. Several thousand teachers are still working on contract basis. The overburdened primary teachers have to look after official work and mid-day meals, apart from their classroom teaching. There are also occasiol additiol duties like enumeration work and correcting voters lists during their supposedly 'off' seasons. Apart from this, many posts of primary education officers, deputy and assistant education inspectors and other educatiol administrative posts are lying vacant for years on end. All this is making a mockery of the RTE Act, so all talk of a transformation in primary education in the State remains just a pipe dream.
This near archic situation is surprising, considering that thousands of crores have been spent in the primary education sector, while thousands of teachers were appointed after qualifying in the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) during former Education minister Himanta Biswa Sharma's tenure. Despite all that, government-run primary schools are being closed down at an alarming rate due to lack of students. Then there is the question of what to do with students in the pre-primary stage, which is becoming vital in the learning process of a child. In private schools, the pre-primary stage itself is a four year process divided into play, preparatory, nursery and kindergarten classes. By the time a child reaches nursery stage, rigorous training begins to prepare the child for entrance tests and interviews for class I in standard schools. This may be termed an undesirable rat race creating a generation of stressed-out children, but it is harsh reality. Even if parents and guardians wish to give their wards a carefree childhood, what options do they have? Now if we compare to this situation to the one year pre-primary stage introduced since 2003 in State government schools, the contrast could not be more distressing. No provisions for appointing teachers or building additiol classrooms and providing teaching aids or mid-day meals have been made for this pre-primary stage. By the strange ways that the State government operates, the Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan is given the responsibility of students in the 6-14 years age group, while the Elementary Education department should be additiolly looking after the one-year pre-primary stage. The Anganwadi workers entrusted with the care of pre-primary students in government schools, are however employees of the Social Welfare department. Filly, the pre-primary students end up being nobody's responsibility. Is it at all surprising if parents turn a blind eye to government schools and hanker for admitting their wards to private schools, where the process of educating the child nowadays begins from around two years of age? Unfortutely the present Education minister and his department seem not only bereft of ideas, but even the sense of urgency in coming to grips with this dismal situation.