WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
There are two distinct approaches to the task of maging education that no government can afford to lose sight of. One is the task of imparting education and the other is the task of administering it. We live in times when the very idea of regarding education as a mission has become an achronism. With the mushroom growth of private educatiol institutions, what we have now is the sale of education. People of my generation are turally shocked at the tuition fees and other expenses in private schools today considering that in our times the best education in any town was in the government high schools. In those days, the tuition fee even in Classes IX and X was just four rupees a month. And we had the benefit of being taught by teachers who really knew their subjects very well. Going by academic standards, they were head and shoulders above the kind of teachers that our grandchildren get even in some of the most expensive private schools. True, there is a great deal of glamour and the packaging of education is done much better these days than it was in our time. Besides, the textbooks of today are far more attractive and sensible than they were in our time. I do not recall having used a single textbook that was not printed entirely in black. Perhaps the most striking aspect of maging education today in the private schools and colleges is that the administration of education has become more streamlined than it was in our time even though the academic standards of teachers might have suffered a marked decline.
But education both at the secondary and tertiary levels must go on even outside the posh private schools and colleges. In Assam, this activity is undertaken through the process of starting ventures schools and venture colleges. And those who undertake the task of setting up ‘venture’ schools and colleges have to make major sacrifices in order to get the educatiol institutions ‘provincialized’ or taken over by the government at least as far as the fincing of such institutions is concerned. And those who are aware of the kind of priority that education gets in the government’s scheme of things are hardly surprised that even when schools are provincialized the days of unpaid professiol work are often not over for those who made major sacrifices in setting up the ‘venture’ institutions. turally, there are frequent complaints about provincialized schools not getting the due grants in time—complaints that are rarely attended to with the promptness that is expected in any civilized society.
Mercifully, the Gauhati High Court directed the Assam government in Thursday to set up educatiol tribuls in all districts of the State within four months to adjudicate disputes related to teaching and non-teaching staff of the non-government educatiol institutions and venture schools of Assam. The order, passed by a full bench of the High Court, ruled that these tribuls would also try cases related to discipliry action and claim for provincialization in respect of teaching and non-teaching staff of venture educatiol institutions. “Till establishment of the tribuls, the State government, in consultation with the High Court, shall desigte the district courts as educatiol tribuls of the respective districts,” the order said. The plea of the Advocate-General of Assam, that so far no educatiol tribul had been established in Assam, was dealt with by a reference to an order passed by an 11-judge bench of the Supreme Court in 2002 in the case of TMA Pai Foundation and Ors vs. State of Kartaka and Ors. In that order, the Supreme Court had observed that disputes between the magement and the staff of educatiol institutions must be decided speedily and without incurring excessive costs. Accordingly, the court considered it appropriate that an educatiol tribul be set up in each district in a State to eble the aggrieved teacher to file an appeal against the decision of the magement concerning discipliry action or termition of service.
Though the Supreme Court’s order was issued with the best of intentions, it is nevertheless important to see how tribuls in India have functioned in the case of other responsibilities entrusted to them. We all know how in the case of the detection of illegal migrants under the provisions of the IM(DT) Act of 1983, the tribuls functioned more as hurdles than as facilitators for the responsibility entrusted to them. While the Indian migrants from Bangladesh came into Assam in millions, their detection and deportation with the help of the tribuls was only in hundreds. And the tion knows at what astronomical cost the tribuls were maintained. In Assam, tribuls have acquired notoriety for extremely slow progress of work. And that is why perhaps the introduction of tribuls for the enforcement of the Foreigners Act of 1946—a procedure not followed in other States—has considerably impeded the process of detection and deportation of foreign tiols illegally living in Assam even after the Supreme Court quashed the IM(DT) Act and brought back the Foreigners Act of 1946 for Assam too in the year 2005.
While the Gauhati High Court’s concern for the problems likely to be faced by the staff of venture schools is greatly appreciated, people are unlikely to be convinced that the creation of tribuls in every district will really solve the problems considering the attitude of government officers towards teachers of venture schools and the priority accorded by the present government to education itself. Instead, it might have been far more useful to set up rigid norms for the government to follow in the process of provincialization of venture schools so that no deserving venture school is prevented from getting provincialized and that the process is not subject to abnormal delays.
What is beginning to happen to education in Assam is there for all to see. Apart from other things, educatiol institutions too are beginning to count as the tokens of status. And government schools just do not count at all in the present scheme of things. And since no bureaucrat will ever think of sending his/her children to a government school, senior government officers have no way of knowing about the kind of education that is imparted in such schools. And since the principals/headmasters of government schools know that they cannot be pulled up by any parent who is also a bureaucrat, they see no reason to worry about other parents. So there is no fear that anyone who matters will ever get to know about the kind of ritual that teaching has become. And this ritual is best typified by the example of a rural primary school that has no teachers to teach because the only one left is saddled with the task of ensuring that the midday meal for the children is provided without fail regardless of whether they are learning anything at school. Thus we have the bizarre case of children attending school only to have their midday meal of khichiri! What better perversion of education can one think of? Our pedagogical tragedy is that we have lost sight of the very purpose of education because of the rituals we have perpetrated in its me. In the eyes of our bureaucrats the silly rituals are more important than education itself because their own children do not have to be part of the farce that is going on. They are in the expensive schools where all farces are made to look vital to the process called education.
The simple litmus test of secondary education is whether it brings about desirable behavioural changes in the learner that makes him/her a better person as a consequence of having received education. All real education is supposed to have additive properties in making the learner a better person. In most cases, however, we come up with a process that takes away more from the learner than it bestows. We see our brand of so-called education making the learner a less honest person (people become more hypocritical than what they were when they started), less courageous, less ratiol, less committed to their own society, more selfish, more intolerant, more superstitious and less inclined to do any hard work. They also become less patriotic. They fail to learn the values of respect for the rights of others and respect for elders. What is such education really worth? What is the use of learning that does not even teach an urban child how to cross a street? What is any education worth that does not teach children how to avoid waste?
We can very well end up having tribuls for education that will monitor whether a venture school has been provincialized in time without caring a whit about the quality of the teachers who are expected to ensure the required behavioural changes that make children better citizens and better human beings. For quite a few decades now that has been the irony of our education system. We have substituted the baggage of empty rituals for real education. Creating education tribuls is unlikely to change things one whit.