WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
Of late, there has been a lot of justified concern about the state of education in Assam. No wonder, the newly elected State government too has projected the deplorable state of education as one of its major concerns. There is no denying that the state of education in Assam, right up from the elementary level, is pathetic, obviously due to total neglect for several decades. That the state of education in Assam is indeed pathetic at all levels should be clear from one rather prominent pointer. It is that more and more students are going out of the State for their education and that this exodus is not confined to people seeking higher education alone. If 20 or 30 years ago students moved out of the State for their postgraduate education, this exodus for the sake of higher education is taking place much earlier now. Students are beginning to move out of Assam immediately after their higher secondary education if their parents are able to afford the expense of education outside the State. In recent years, one has begun to notice an exodus of students to other States even at the school level. Only a few days ago there was the sad story of four schoolboys from Assam having disappeared from their school in Delhi. This preference for schools and colleges outside the State clearly reflects the dissatisfaction of both students and their parents with the kind of education that students are getting in Assam. And it will simply not do to twiddle our thumbs and do nothing about the present state of affairs, in the fond hope that things will get corrected on their own in due course.
One of the reasons why our students think that they will get much better education outside the State is that there is a great deal of corruption in the recruitment of teachers both for schools and colleges. Actually, things are much worse in colleges because more often than not nepotism plays a major role in the selection of college teachers by the governing bodies of colleges. Instead of worrying about how good a teacher is going to be, the cutting edge for the selection of a teacher is often who he or she is related to. In any case, I have always been opposed to the manner of recruiting teachers on the basis of an interview (or no interview at all) rather than an actual demonstration of the candidate’s teaching abilities in a classroom situation. All teachers are required to be good communicators, and this crucial ability is best tested only in the classroom situation. While I agree that this is a rather slow process of recruiting teachers, I still maintain that it is the only valid means of recruiting good teachers. I have a lurking suspicion that it is not the additiol time required to recruit teachers through the process of a demonstration of actual classroom teaching abilities, but rather an anxiety to spare the candidate the discomfiture of failure that prompts governing bodies to reject the only reliable means of recruiting teachers. A demonstration of the would-be teacher’s prowess in the classroom tells us several things about the person’s suitability as a teacher and as a communicator in a real-life situation. And when a college is recruiting an English teacher, the teaching demonstration gives us a proper and fair assessment of the candidate’s pronunciation and ebles selectors to see whether English teaching is done in English or through the medium of the mother tongue.
As far as secondary school teaching is concerned, we now have candidates who have cleared the TET mode of selection and others who have not. I am not convinced that the TET is an adequate test of teaching abilities. However, with the present dearth of teachers, the day is not far off when almost anyone who is willing to teach will get recruited as a schoolteacher. This is largely because Assam is terribly short of teacher training colleges. This is reflected in the very huge shortage of competent school teachers in Assam. There is also the legitimate fear that many of the teachers recruited are not proficient enough to communicate to their students what they are required to teach.
Most of us are eager that our school teachers should be able to provide the kind of education that goes by the me of “value-based education”. It should be clear to anyone that even if students have learnt a great deal in their schools by way of subject content, their education would be deemed to be incomplete if they fail to give clear evidence of the fact that they have also acquired the desired values that make them worthy citizens. What is indeed remarkable is that 60 or 70 years ago the desired values were inculcated by parents and elders to the extent that even those without formal education cherished all the values that made a human being a better person. The interesting part of it all was that my mother, my aunts and other relatives who had studied up to Class II or Class III had excellent value systems. But what is even more interesting is their ability to read easily despite the fact that they had virtually no formal education worth talking about. My mother read the newspapers carefully and was also very fond of reading bulky novels in two languages. I am not sure how many children who have studied only up to Class II or Class III are so keen about reading. But I think I can see what is happening today. In many schools, the ability to impart the three R’s—reading, writing and arithmetic—is not as proficient as it used to be. When we are not talking of higher education, for most people the ability to read and write and to work out simple arithmetic calculations is deemed to be adequate acquisition of the necessary skills for surviving in a society that primary and secondary schools are expected to provide. I am not very surprised that even this is not happening today. I have come across many secondary school teachers with atrocious handwriting, and their ability to work out simple calculations mentally is sorely lacking. I wonder how well such teachers can impart the required basic skills and knowledge that would eble their students to survive in the 21st century and to keep learning on their own. People who have not had the benefit and privilege of higher education need at least the ability and the desire to keep learning on their own throughout their lives. If their schools could give them the ability and the desire to do this we would have less reason to lament the state of education in Assam.
What we tend to keep forgetting is that no human activity can take place outside time. As such, intelligent survival in the 21st century would have to give due emphasis to how efficiently we have maged our time. I feel sorry for our schoolchildren because a lot of their precious learning time is taken away from them due to tural calamities. This is because apart from being prevented from going to school during the floods, their school buildings are often used as a relief centres. This takes away even more of their school time, thus helping them to forget what they had learnt. I am happy to find that both Sanjay Hazarika and Patricia Mukhim are concerned about what tural calamities like floods do to the education of children in Assam. Sanjay has suggested that we could have boats that could provide space for school children to keep the learning process going after the floods and until their schools are no longer used as relief centres for flood-affected souls. Mercifully, the summer vacation of schools happens to coincide with the flood season. Were the floods to come at a different time, our schoolchildren would have lost even more of their learning days due to the floods. One can only hope that our political leaders and bureaucrats will start thinking about how the learning time of our schoolchildren can be saved and how we can have altertives to the use of school buildings for flood relief year after year. What is indeed very saddening is that very few of our politicians and bureaucrats should be worrying about what the floods do to the education of children year after year.