This is not the first auspicious occasion in this column that we have had the rueing that education in Assam, and indeed in the rest of Northeast India, is in a state of disarray and that it needs serious rethink and repair. We have been pointing to the many malaises afflicting the education sector of this region many a time in this column only to be emboldened with perturbing facts and figures to point further to the deeper canker. And facts are facts – undisputable. Look at this school: the Doigrung Kenduguri Primary School under the Golaghat East Education Block in Assam, a State that once boasted of intellectual giants like KK Handiqui (the first VC of Gauhati University) and Anundoram Borooah (the ICS jewel from this region who eventually went on to become an intertiolly acclaimed authority on Sanskrit literature). The Doigrung school, as this newspaper reported on 3 December 2017, is an institution that was built with generous funds flowing in from Numaligarh Refinery Limited and has a strength of about 100 pupils from Nursery to Class V. But the mother of all wonders is that it has a lone classroom and a lone teacher who teaches all the students in the same classroom at the same time and who has also to look after affairs such as mid-day meal and official duties requiring him to visit the education office in the district headquarters! But yes, he, in fact, is not a loner; he is assisted by a volunteer from the village concerned! A one-teacher school, this is, where yet the hapless parents of the more hapless students are forced to radiate hopes dashing against the real world of institutiol apathy and callousness that works out the charade of a new-age education boom in the State and of the making of a knowledge society. This is not how education happens in the 21st century. And this is not the solitary case. The government’s own admission has a tale hanging: as per the first Gutsav phase report, there are as many as 1,368 single-teacher schools in the eight districts covered. The synopsis of the tale is that education is not just happening, that too at the primary level where education ought to be education in the real sense of the term – more than the homes where parents, mired in illiteracy, poverty and backwardness, repose faith in the school system so that their wards are empowered to be human resources in the future.
The Education Cry
Assam’s education sector, when it comes to government schools in rural areas, is not just pathetic but also smacks of what can well be called the total lack of vision and blueprint to shape a system where students acquire the necessary skills to be an employable human resource and thus a human capital. These government schools are in fact a recipe for disaster if one goes by the average drop-out rate and the level of unemployability it creates with the serious eventuality that such unemployability is also a perfect recipe for non-state activities such as militancy – rather the industry of sheer crime in cahoots with state actors who have a fair share in the perpetuation of such loot. What is quite disturbing is that it is in rural areas that people look up to government schools to get their children educated but it is precisely in such areas that governmental callousness has its supreme manifestation in so far as education as a priority subject is concerned: semi-trained teachers, or the ones who are not trained at all in the business of education, are called upon to shape the destiny of a huge population of tender and impressioble minds. Worse, education fests such the much-vaunted Gutsav are a wonderful excuse for teachers not to teach anything meaningful at all but to work out the pretence of tests to estimate the gu (quality) of schoolchildren who have all along had the misfortune of being subjected to an examition system that is neither valid nor reliable. This is not how education happens.
The very fact that 18.9% of the government-run lower primary and upper primary schools in Assam are single-room institutions of ‘learning’ as per the Elementary Education Report Card speaks volumes of the quality of education that our tiny tots are exposed to at a time when they should have had the best of educatiol boons to render a solid shape to their intellect and creativity towards the making of a skilled and employable work force. How can these children learn anything at all that is worthwhile when they are packed into a single classroom without any regard at all to their standards? Just go to any civilized society and tell them that a Class V pupil sits alongside a Class I pupil and gets ‘educated’ in a government-run school in this part of the country, and they will ask you whether you have any sense of education at all in a province that is desperately crying for education of the real kind and the fruits accruing out of it.
Assam Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma needs to respond to the call of duty. The duty is simple: less word, more action. He needs to act, that is. It will only take a bit of innovation in thinking beyond the theatre of fests like Gutsav. All the single-teacher schools should be transformed into institutions where a teacher imparts lessons to not more than 40 students of a particular standard at a time, with the class duration not extending beyond 40 minutes – which is the norm in most Western societies that boast of schools producing the best of the intelligentsia of the future in a gamut of disciplines ranging from mathematics to magement to biotech to business (entrepreneurship). This is not a difficult task. Provided, of course, there is the vision of the right kind.