The plight of students at a primary school coming under the Balipara primary education block in Sonitpur district is symptomatic of what is going on in many single teacher schools in the State. Reportedly 140 students of this primary school at Khomukh missed out on six precious days of schooling for no fault of theirs in the first week of February. The school had three teachers till October last when one of them retired; soon afterwards, another teacher secured a transfer to her home district. The school principal was left alone to hold the fort. But as the month of February began, he had to attend a teachers’ training programme elsewhere. Mindful of the value of six days of classes within the year’s tight academic calendar, the school principal is said to have written to block education officials, pleading for filling up the two vacant teacher posts forthwith. But knowing how the wheels of officialdom move in the State, particularly in the Education sector which is badly stagting, it is obvious that the deprived students will have to make up on their own for the schooldays missed. In the just concluded assembly budget session, the Education minister admitted in reply to a question that there are as many as 3,649 schools in the State pulling along with a single teacher. Of these, 3,638 schools are lower primary and the remaining 11 are upper primary schools. Educatiolly backward Karbi Anglong district has the highest number of such single teacher schools, 583 by the minister’s count. What implications this has for the State effectively guaranteeing citizens’ fundamental right to education is anybody’s guess.
About one-and-half years back, media reports highlighted a school in Sukharjar in Barpeta district setting a dubious record of sorts with about 400 students stuck with one teacher. It also transpired that the lone teacher shouldering the burden of teaching the entire school, was on many days, not the one appointed by the government! The single regular teacher was said to have found the load so irksome that he sometimes skipped duty by deputing a surrogate to take his classes. On the other hand, there are instances galore of schools across the State having more teachers than students. Last August, a social worker was horrified to discover an upper primary school without a single student in Choto Haflong village of Harangajao in Dima Hasao district, even though the school was supposedly running with 27 students and six teachers as per an RTI query. The head teacher claimed that the students ‘only came during exams’ while the village headman admitted faking some student mes ‘to forestall the government from closing down the school’. There are also many cases of schools being reduced to virtually single teacher schools, with other teachers assigned duties like conducting population census or enumerating voters. Then there are many youths clearing Teacher Eligibility Test but complaining about not receiving fil appointments — while Education department officials in turn complain that many such TET appointees refuse to join their origil places of posting, instead pulling strings to seek transfers nearer to home. Meanwhile, hundreds of primary school teachers, whose services have not been provincialized, are all set to retire by February end this year without having received a single month’s salary throughout their teaching career. If hundreds of primary schools served as flood relief camps for months on end last year, this year many such schools are likely to be used as polling centres, thereby bidding goodbye to classroom teaching during that entire period. These are but some pointers of the absolute mess in State education that the Tarun Gogoi government has failed to clean up in ’15 years of trust’.