A Dream Called ‘Shiksha’
“Education ought to be related to life, needs and aspirations of the people so as to be a powerful instrument of social, economic and cultural transformation”-The Indian Education Commission 1964-66.
First of all, I must admit that I was born and bought up in a remote village in Sivasagar district of Assam. Naturally, the only option for me was to enroll in the village government primary school of vernacular medium. There was only one primary school in the entire village and the second school was several kilometers away from the village. I was lucky enough to get shifted to a nearby small town in the later part of my childhood for better and further education, but most of my childhood friends were not and had to drop out before completion of primary education or somehow completed it.
Why I am rehearsing my childhood memory here is to present the gloomy state of educational scenario in our state. This is the case of almost every village, which holds its relevance till today. We might feel proud of those students who excel in matriculation or secondary schooling despite their poverty or the pathetic conditions of their educational institutions, but not many seem giving any heed to the poor infrastructural conditions of their schools, pathetic conditions of roads, communication system etc. Why not many of us are raising our voices or not sitting in demonstrations demanding these basic necessities that make the child the future of the nation?
Today wastage and stagnations are big hurdles in the way of realizing universalisation of primary education in our country. There are several reports highlighting the poor conditions of primary and secondary schooling in Assam as well. Former Union HRD minister Prakash Javedkar in a reply in Lok Sabha session revealed that during 2016-17, Assam recorded a dropout rate of 5.60% as against the national average of 6.35% in primary level. This rate is as high as 27.6% in secondary level as against the national average of 22.13%. This is a serious matter of concern for all of us. Most of the students, especially from villages leave schools within a few months of their schooling.
Whenever I talk to any headmaster or teacher of a village regarding it, almost all agree that owing to poor family background and for other domestic and agricultural related helps, the students have to leave the school much before completion of their education. Also I personally feel that infrastructure of government schools are not attracted enough to hold these children back in their schools. Though unnoticed, I believe infrastructure has a bigger role to play in the educational development of children. Also the overpopulation of children in each classroom is something very common in primary and especially in high and secondary schools.
The other day I was watching an interview of Delhi’s education minister Manish Sisodia in YouTube and I was completely moved by the facts that the government schools in Delhi have developed a great deal. I was so touched by the amount of praise that the minister was getting from the school students, parents as well as teachers from these government schools. The same day I ordered online the book ‘Shiksha- My experiments as an education minister’ (PENGUIN BOOKS), authored by Manish Sisodia himself, to know in more details about the journey of this transformation of government schools in Delhi. The book contains so many interesting facts about this journey and the real hard work and dedication that the AAP government has invested in this progress. I feel happy by the fact that ‘education’ now finds a place in the political agenda of their government.
Though I am not a voter from any of the Delhi constituencies, I must admit without any political propaganda that I was so encouraged with the concepts like ‘happiness classes,’ ‘entrepreneurship mindset curriculum’ etc. being adopted by the Delhi governments in their government schools. In a globalised competitive mechanical age it is very important to teach children about happiness and mental well-being, where India is lacking far behind than many of the developing countries including Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka etc. With a global rank of 140 in the World Happiness Report of 2019, India is constantly degrading its rank in the happiness index since couple of years. Also a lesson on entrepreneurship mindset development will definitely help the students of government schools to compete with the rest of the people in this cut throat competitive age.
When I think of these developments in a state from our very own country I feel positive but at the same time wonder why Assam is not able to achieve such a milestone. What saddens me more is the worrying state of both primary as well as secondary educational institutions in Assam, which can be corroborated from the passing rates in the HSLC results of the state. With only 60.23% overall pass percentage in 2019 Assam HSLC result, it is far behind the overall pass percentage of 80.97% in Delhi in class X results for 2019. Here also the government schools perform poorly with compared to the private schools. Today due to the lack of proper educational environment and other facilities in government schools, most of the parents prefer their children to enroll in private schools. As said by Manish Sisodia, we must determine the bottom limit for our schools; thereafter the sky is the upper limit.
After more than three decades since National Policy of Education 1986, the draft committee for National Education Policy of 2019, headed by K. Kasturirangan, has suggested several recommendations in the primary as well as secondary level of education other than higher education sectors. Among the recommendations, the suggestions for doubling the budget allocation for education, improvement of school nutrition programme etc are laudable. However the important recommendation is the proposal for amendment of Right to Education Act to include the children from 3 to 18 years of age under its jurisdiction. This means inclusion of both early childhood care and secondary education under the purview of Right to Education Act. Other than these, I believe giving more emphasis on vocational education, skill learning and job oriented courses is the need of the hour.
It is good sign that Assam has improved in the School Education Quality Index 2019, recently published by NITI Ayog and has shown progress in different parameters like learning outcome, equity, infrastructure and facility etc. However much needed to be done including checking the rates of dropouts, regularization of teachers appointment to deal with single teacher schools as well as infrastructural developments etc. Parents still preferring private schools over government schools for their children need political attention. It should be the political will of each and every government not only to give quality education but also affordable and accessible education.
(The author is currently pursuing LL.M. from J.B. Law College under Gauhati University and he has also completed M.A. in Political Science from IGNOU)