For primary school teachers in Assam, a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) degree is well nigh compulsory. Even in the State government’s latest cabinet decision to regularize the services of 6,500 contractual teachers, the Education minister announced that 3,000 teachers already armed with B.Ed degrees will receive salaries on par with graduate teachers. The remaining 3,500 teachers have been given five years to earn a B.Ed degree, and till then, they will draw fixed pay. This is but one instance of how vital the B.Ed degree has become in the appointment, regularization of service and determition of pay scales of government school teachers in the State. After the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 granted fundamental right to elementary education for all citizens — implementing the law in Assam and getting Central funds under it meant that the tiol Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) guidelines would apply in the State. In Primary level from Class I to V, a teacher will need to have a diploma or certificate in basic teachers training of not less than two years, or a degree in Bachelor of Elementary Education (B.El.Ed). To teach at the Upper Primary level from Class VI to VIII, the requirement is diploma or certificate in elementary teachers training or the B.El.Ed degree. From the Secondary level onwards, the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) degree becomes compulsory; this too is applicable in Assam if its Secondary schools are to receive Central funds under Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). Considering the importance of B.El.Ed and B.Ed degrees for the livelihood of thousands of school teachers in Assam, the State government should have put in place a proper infrastructure to help them acquire these compulsory qualifications. Sadly, this has not been the case.
This in turn raises the very real possibility that teachers from outside the State equipped with such degrees may have to be appointed here if the government is to meet its obligations completely under the RTE Act. There are District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs) as well as universities including the KKHSOU in the State providing diplomas in Elementary Education and degrees in Education. But the intake is not sufficient to meet the demand. When the process of holding Teacher Eligibility Tests (TET) began in Assam, it was envisaged that around 1 lakh teachers will need to be recruited to our schools. While the Centre made it clear that B.Ed/B.El.Ed degrees will be mandatory, it agreed to give some breathing space to the recruited and previously serving teachers to obtain the degrees. The capacity of the State to train and provide such degrees to teachers was estimated at only about 3 thousand per year; even distance education mode would have barely raised the number to 5 thousand. As if this huge shortfall is not enough, teachers or candidates for teaching posts face much anxiety in going for a B.Ed degree — for seats are few and the fee in most cases prohibitively high.
Of the 61 B.Ed colleges in the State, only 11 are run by the government. While the fee for 2-year B.Ed course in the government colleges is in the range of Rs 15-20 thousand, non-government colleges are reportedly charging up to Rs 1 lakh for just the first year. Questions have been raised whether some of these colleges enjoy recognition as well as about the quality of training they impart. This is a grave issue with NCTE guidelines stipulating B.Ed and B.El.Ed degrees with sizeable components of joyful learning, activity based learning and new pedagogical concepts. There are allegations that apart from fleecing students, many non-governmental B.Ed colleges do not even have permanent campuses and minimum infrastructure — making a mockery of teaching the course as per the latest required standards. This can put students at a serious disadvantage if the validity of their degree is questioned later on in their careers, leave alone equipping them properly for classroom teaching. Activists of Chatra Mukti Sangram Samiti and All Assam B.Ed Students Union recently staged a protest near the Directorate of Public Instruction at Kahilipara in Guwahati, maging to wrest a promise from Education department officials to discuss the problems of B.Ed colleges soon. The sooner the problem of training teachers and arming them with proper degrees is resolved, the better for the fates of lakhs of students seeking worthwhile education in our schools. This is not something the State Education department can afford to sit upon, year after year.