In Assam, most of the families send their children to private schools, despite the fact that government schools are free. This is primarily because most of the private schools of Assam often provide superior results in board examinations, cover the entire curriculum and offer extra-curricular activities, when compared to government schools. More than 90% families, even the poorest of urban Assam and most of the middle-class families of rural Assam, enrol their children in private schools. Private schooling has come to be associated with an apparent perception of quality in Assam and thus, desirable, in the eyes of the stakeholders, irrespective of their socio-economic status.
In reality,most of the private school authorities,especially the English medium private school authorities of Assam, are taking advantage of this perception. Operating private schools in Assam has now become a big service industry, more or less a profit-making business.Though it is mandatory for all private schools functioning in Assam (irrespective of their board affiliation and recognition from SEBA, CBSE or ICSE) to be registered under the 'Assam Non-Government Educational Institutions (Regulation & Management) Act, 2006' and to follow the norms of the Act, several discrepancies can be found in their operations.Even some private schools are operating in Assam without registration under the Act.
It has been seen that most of the private schools of Assam fail to comply with the rules of the Act. Theyoperate under lack of required land, open spaces for playing and other activities, safe school buildings and proper infrastructures as per norms of the Act, except a few costly English medium private schools and very few Assamese medium private schools.The school buildings do not have provisions for earthquake protection, fire safety measures and safe electrification. The school campuses are not clean and hygienic. The class rooms are not spacious and hygienic.They are overcrowded and there is lack of sufficient lighting and fanning.The school authorities enrol more students than the infrastructure can sustain. Some private schools don't have safe drinking water facilities and hygienic toilets. A few don't even have separate girls' toilets.
Most of the private schools of Assam lack facilities for girl students for adequate and private space for changing sanitary napkins, soap and adequate water to wash themselves and their clothes during period and safe disposal facilities for soiled sanitary napkins. The school authorities don't monitor the issues related to the safety of the students through a strict monitoring system.The State authority should begin on-spot inspections of all private schools in Assam. They should serve show-cause notices to those institutions which are violating the Act. If the schools fail to comply with the rules, their registrations should be cancelled.
In Assam, most of the English medium private schools don't follow the syllabus in line with SCERT and NCERT up to Class VIII. Theychange their syllabi each year so that they can sell new books each year. They either sell books and uniforms themselves or ask the guardians to buy them from a specific seller. This indicates a nexus between the school authorities and the sellers. The government should take steps to ensure determination of the syllabus of these schools in line with SCERT and NCERT up to Class VIII, so that the authorities of these schools cannot make frequent changes in their syllabi.
It has been seen that most of the private schools of Assam charge exorbitant fees, but the facilities, including teaching, are not up to the standard. It is true that the private schools of Assam have to function primarily on the revenue earned from students' fees. They don't get any sorts of aides from the government. But, it is a regular practice of the authorities of the private schools of Assam, especially in Guwahati, to hike tuition fees, readmission fees, renewal fees, etc. on the slightest pretext. Though the authorities of these schools do it in the name of providing quality education, improvement in infrastructure facilities and increasing salary of teachers and non-teaching staff, these exercises appear to be nothing but mere means of fleecing the guardians. The State government should constitute a State Fee Regulatory Board to rein in private school authorities and should take strict action against those schools which are allegedly charging exorbitant fees.
The main aim of a school, whether private or government, is to provide quality education to students. An honest, dedicated, qualified and skilled teacher is the key for providing quality education. Most of the private schools in Assam lack such teachers. They don't join the private schools due to low salary scale. Moreover, the private school authorities don't appoint such teachers as they have to pay good salary to them. Theschool authorities don't follow the set rules in appointment of teachers like B.Ed. or D.EI.Ed qualification. The percentage of untrained teachers is more in private schools and most of them don't receive in-service training.
A few private school even lack sufficient numbers of teachers to maintain the proper pupil-teacher ratio. The authorities of private schools charge very high fees from students but don't give appropriate salaries to teachers. They exploit the teachers. The explosion of private schools as well as students in Assam is creating ideal conditions wherein these teachers can be exploited. The true economic status of private school teachers of Assam is really pathetic. They are one of the lowest paid groups in the State. Some private school teachers don't get facilities of provident fund and ESI schemes. An individual needs economic security to give one's best towards any profession. Due to very low salaries, the teachers of the private schools of Assam are unable to do justice to their profession. They need to do private tuitions for extra income.
As teaching in private schools is not rewarding in material terms, the profession doesn't attract brighter and dynamic youths in Assam, thereby ensuring a continuation of the decline in teaching standards. There is need of greater economic empowerment of the private school teachers in Assam and tackling of concerns such as, good salary, job security, provident fund, post-retirement benefits etc., so that the profession attracts the best and the brightest youth in Assam.
The State government should strictly monitor that the private school authorities appoint B.Ed. or D.EI.Ed passed, TET-qualified candidates as teachers and pay appropriate salaries. The good news is that the State Education Minister is taking active interest to bring in a Bill to ensure minimum pay for the teachers of private schools of Assam. But, in the Bill, it must be ensured that the school authorities cannot hike school fees in the name of paying minimum salary as per new norms. The State government should provide financial aides to the private schools of Assam to minimise the student's fees and to pay good salary to the teachers and non-teaching staff.
The State government should keep a check on the functioning of the private schools of Assam, keeping in mind the future of our students.They should consider the operations of private school as an industry and strictly apply the norms of an industry like quality, minimum wages, etc. There is urgent need of a special Act to rein in the private school authorities of Assam.
(Dr.DharmakantaKumbhakar is a medical doctor in GMCH. The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author and not that of the publication it has been published in.)