The state of our education has been visible to one and all for quite some time now. The total lack of confidence in the education imparted in Assam is perhaps most visible in respect of tertiary education considering that a large number of our students rush to colleges and universities outside the State even at the undergraduate level. The state of our primary and secondary education is far more deplorable today. In rural areas, we have one–teacher primary schools that often remain closed because the teacher is absent. Even in the middle schools and high schools there is always a chronic shortage of teachers, and those working are often distracted by the demands of having to run the midday meal programme. The results of a recent study conducted by an NGO called Pratham are presented in the ‘Annual Status of Education Report 2014’released in New Delhi recently. The study has painted a gloomy picture of school education in Assam. Despite primary education in the age group of six to 14 having been made free and compulsory (with education becoming a fundamental right), 3.2 per cent of children in this age group in Assam are still ‘not in school’. One also discovers that around 17.3 per cent of children in that age group are enrolled in private schools. What is of major concern, however, is the alarming drop–out rate. The percentage of ‘not in school’ students increases to around 17.1 per cent in the 15 to 16 age group. What is significant is that both at the 6–14 and 15–16 age groups the percentage of the boys is higher in the ‘not in school’ category. The study also did a survey of what school children are able to do about reading, writing and arithmetic. It found that 48 per cent of children in Class I do not recognize the letters of the alphabet fully. Only 15.3 per cent children in Class I (whether in government schools or private schools) can read a word. In fact, even at the Class III level 14.7 per cent children could not recognize all the letters of the alphabet. The percentage of such children in Class VII and Class VIII was 2.6 and 2 respectively. Only 42.5 per cent of the children in Class I could identify the numerals from 1 to 9. Only 24.6 per cent of the students in Class VIII could do divisions.
What the report of Pratham reveals is that education in Assam at the primary and secondary levels is in a shambles not so much because of unwilling learners or incompetent teachers but rather because of what the government has been doing with the entire business of education. This can be seen from the priority given to education in the State. Who are the people most readily identified by the government when it comes to depriving them of their salaries due to a shortage of funds? It is invariably the school teachers. There are school teachers who do not get paid for several months. Does the government honestly expect them to go on teaching without salaries for ever? Is it at all surprising that they should neglect their unremunerative assignments and take to private tuitions so that their families do not starve? There are thousands of teachers who have cleared the TET requirements but have not been appointed even though there is an acute shortage of teachers in the State according to repeated statements made by the government itself. What is a fundamental right worth if the government itself is responsible for sabotaging its fulfilment? If the government honestly wants to improve education, it must start by giving education a much higher priority than it has been doing. It must speedily fill all the vacancies of teachers in the schools and must increase the salary scales of school teachers substantially if it wishes to attract people of better merit, qualifications and aptitude to the teaching profession. If even these requirements can be met with some honesty and enthusiasm, substantial improvements can be made with our primary and secondary education to start with. But as long as the government persists with empty slogans, the standards of education in the State are bound to plumb even lower depths. And now that people realize that much of what is happening is due to sabotage by the government, there can be little hope for this government to be reinstated regardless of the number of empty claims that continue to be made about what it has done for the State’s education.