Standard of Education in Primary, Secondary and Higher Secondary Schools in the State of West Bengal
Col. Bhupal Lahiri (Retd.)
What makes a country great? Is it the number of educated people or quality of education? How is it, in this fast progressing world, seventy long years after independence, except for producing more children, we have lagged behind in almost all the fields including good standard of education?
I often pondered over such questions but found no convincing answer. My search for simple and straight forward answers led me to piles of complex mathematical figures rolled out by statisticians or labyrinth of arguments woven by the Pundits. The more I tried to dig, I sank deeper into the quick sand of confusion. This is the state, I suppose, the Pundits finally attain in life, a condition described by our ancient saints as Moksha.
My query about the standard of education let me to certain startling facts and I was in for a shock when I read the reports published by some reputed international organisations. One such organisation commented, it will take at least 50 years for India to attain the minimum standard. A survey recently conducted by an English News Television Channel about the standard of education in primary schools in our villages shows that students fared very badly in mock tests conducted by them. You have to be a four star astrologer to predict the exact year by which we shall be able to reach the base camp of education while trying to climb the peak of excellence. And taking into account the present state of affairs and the visible theatrics as well as high decibel noises generated by the politicians in power, it does not demand the skills of a rocket scientist engaged in calculating the time required for journey to Mars, to be able to safely assume that it will take very many years before we achieve a minimum standard.
Here arises the question, what has led to this dismal state? Couldn't we have done better? How will the problems related to the low standard presently being faced by the schools will ever get resolved?
The problems plaguing the issue of standard of education are very many; the primary ones are deficiency of teachers, quality of teachers and their irregular attendance, poor infrastructure etc. etc.
The infrastructure which we inherited at the time of independence when the British left, was not too bad, definitely much better than British Colonies in Africa and South Asia. It was not very difficult to build up on it gradually if a sincere effort was made by successive governments from day one and by this time, we could have easily reached the desired standard. But this was not done, why?
The main reason put forth by the Pundits is that we are a poor nation and do not have sufficient resources. This argument is nothing but a trash which may not deserve any place other than a trash can. How could the Third World Countries like Bosnia, Nigeria, Uganda or Kenya attain better standards after their independence? Are they very rich?
The real reason is that, successive governments did not consider education as a priority in their development programmes . And you know why.
For all political parties, without any exception, which captured the seat of power during the last 70 years, allocation of priorities in roll over five year plans as well as earmarking of resources for implementation of development works, depended only on a single factor, political gain. Though the architects of our constitution visualised our country as a welfare state, gain for the poor people, in real terms, has never been the priority for any government.
From day one after independence, it was crystal clear to the politicians that giving priority to education and allocation of more funds will not fetch them proportional dividends in terms of increase in number of votes. Conversely, they preferred that a vast population of the country should remain uneducated. They framed the education policy in such a manner that the students who perform poorly in school examinations, are debarred from entry into colleges. A little analysis will reveal that this axe was primarily designed for the students studying in village schools with low standards. In this manner, they conjured, demand for jobs for educated and highly skilled will be less and they will have enough uneducated unemployed people , particularly in the villages, to participate in their election rallies and full up the Maidans like Brigade Parade Ground with million heads.
It is political calculation and not scientific study or evaluation which acts as overriding factor in the matter of determination of national priority. While allocating funds, politicians take into consideration the aspects of visible and invisible gains, as perceived by voters. They are somehow convinced, visible and immediate gains like better roads, street lighting or piped water supply are appreciated more by voters compared to long term or invisible gains. For example, providing cheap ration is considered more beneficial compared to filling up the deficiency of teachers in schools, the effect of which is not visible to the public immediately. I am yet to see an election manifesto where any political party or a candidate promises to improve the standard of education in schools.
Thus successive governments made great announcements like Sarva Shiksha Avijan amidst lot of fanfare and drum beating just to impress the world, but did little to improve the standard of education in schools, particularly those located in suburban areas and far flung villages. In stead, they encouraged businessmen and party members with tons of black money to enter into the lucrative business of education and set up sophisticated private schools in cities and towns with high capitation fees to cater for the children of urban elite. The standard of education in most of these schools is undoubtedly high compared to Govt. schools in villages, but well beyond the reach of common people.
A divide has thus been created by the government, of course by design, where children of the rich and privileged will have first class education in premiere private schools in cities and towns, but children of the poor mostly residing in villages will have access to only third class education in government schools. Therefore it is natural, students passing out of schools with low standard will find it extremely difficult to compete with students of elite schools, in various competitive examinations.
Out of the three main factors affecting the standard of education such as deficiency of teachers, quality of teachers and poor infrastructure, let's take the first one i.e. deficiency of teachers. There is a huge deficiency of teachers, on the average about forty to fifty percent and in some schools it is as high as eighty percent. I will give few examples. Nfarganj Baidyanath Bidyapith, a high school in Basanti Block with two thousand four hundred students, shortage of teachers is twenty seven, out of seventy two authorised. In Nafarganj No.4 Secondary School, there is not a single teacher for classes five to seven.
During the last several years, West Bengal Govt. have not recruited a single teacher with some pretext or other, though several new schools have been opened. And during this time, they have entangled themselves in various problems including a number of court cases. Even the ace Astrologers and Tantriks are unable to predict as to when such cases will be closed. As per the statement of Chief Minister of the State, there are two villains in the piece simultaneously shoving spokes in their wheel of progress. The first one is the government at the centre and second one is the opposition party in the state. A news item appearing in 'The Telegraph' on 27 August 2016 is relevant and I quote:
Calcutta, Aug. 26: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today said "unnecessary cases" filed by "a handful of politicians" had caused the delay in the recruitment of primary school teachers.
The comments came on a day Calcutta High Court said there must not be further delay in the recruitment of teachers and that the verdict on the case filed by some trained candidates who are yet to secure jobs would be delivered on August 31.
Speaking at the foundation day programme of the Trinamul student wing on Mayo Road, Mamata said: "A handful of politicians have filed cases against the recruitment (process) because they want nothing good to happen. The same people are now demanding answers on why teachers are not getting jobs.... Ask them, why did you file the 'political interest litigations'?"
"If I try to build a road, they move court. If I try to create jobs, they move court. If I try to do anything for development that would benefit people, they move court. This has to stop," she added.
The last Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) at the primary level was held in October 2015 with the aim of filling up 30,000 vacancies. Around 20 lakh candidates had taken the exam. However, recruitments could not be made because of court cases alleging irregularities and a question paper leak. The last time recruitments were made was on March 31, 2013.
Later today, the case filed by three candidates who had obtained certificates from Primary Teachers Training Institutions, a recruitment pre-condition laid down by the Centre, came up for hearing before the court of Justice C.S. Karnan
Justice Karnan said: "There should be no further delay in dissolving the matter. Because of the delay in appointments, students are suffering. So, I want to end the case by this month. I will deliver my verdict on August 31."
Lawyers representing the state filed an affidavit today, stating the government would give priority to those candidates who have passed the TET and have either a Primary Teachers Training Institution certificate or a DLed degree.
"If any posts are vacant after that, then only will the untrained TET-qualified candidates be recruited," the affidavit said.
Soumen Dutta, the lawyer representing the petitioners, sought the court's permission to file an affidavit to counter the proposal. The judge agreed to the request.
CPM MLA Sujan Chakraborty alleged the government was not recruiting teachers because it would have to pay them salaries.
"The government is not sincere about recruiting teachers as it would have to pay them salaries.... Instead of paying salaries, the government is interested in spending on fairs," Chakraborty said, adding that his party did not file any case.
It is not a rare experience, political parties declare popular policies just before elections to garner more votes but are never serious to implement them. Afterwards when nothing happens, they fabricate reasons to convince the public that they are indeed trying their best to fulfill their promises, but there are extraneous reasons beyond their control which are preventing them to do so. These extraneous reasons are so skillfully crafted and fabricated by highly intelligent brains hired by the powerful politicians that a common man on the street will never suspect the good intention of the political party making such announcements. At the worst, an innocent public may brand the party in power as inefficient or a bunch of incompetent fools never realising that they have been tricked by highly competent brains, specialised in the field deceiving innocent and unsuspecting public.
We have also seen that the political parties in power, have gradually destroyed the other pillars of democracy as defined in our constitution and have appropriated all the powers unto themselves. And it will be a rather day dream, if we imagine that they are going to give up the power on their own which they have so painstakingly acquired and concentrated in their hands! Is there anyone who can put pressure and force them to change their ways?
Let us turn our eyes to the essence of our democracy, as spelt out in our constitution. It is for the people and by the people. But, except for casting their votes once in five years, most people in our country have not been exercising their democratic rights. In practice, over the years, they have been eventually converted into robotic voting machines. Simply put, by not exercising their rights for long seventy long years, ultimately the people of this largest democracy in the world have become totally powerless and thus have lost the ability to bring about any pressure on the political parties in power, forcing them to change or set the wrong things right. In spite of all the pains of suffering and deprivation, they are stuck to their age old belief that the sufferings they are presently undergoing is because of their destiny etched on their forehead at the time of their birth or due to Karma in their previous birth. They sincerely believe, it is either the Sarkar (Govt.) or God (Lord Krishna of Bhagabat Gita or Allah) who can alleviate their sufferings and they have no role, whatsoever, to play in resolving the problems, as they are powerless. In the extreme, few of them even believe that wearing pendants given by astrologers, stuffed with holy ash will help their children to obtain excellent results in examinations, even if there are no teachers in the school and no classes are held throughout the academic year.
So much about the role and power of our citizens and their ability to bring about pressure on the government thus forcing them to improve the educational standard. Let us now turn our eyes to other three agencies, who we believe, can play a positive role in the matter. The first one, out of these is the Judiciary, one of the principal Pillars of our Democracy.
When it comes to safeguarding the interest of common citizens of our country, the role of Judiciary has been clearly defined in our constitution. Since standard of education has a direct bearing in shaping the future citizens of our country and the elected political parties have undoubtedly failed to discharge their responsibility in the matter of achieving the required standard in schools and not recruited a single teacher during last so many years, Judiciary ought to have taken suo moto cognizance of the grave situation and done something concrete to mitigate the problem. A pro-active stance on the part of Judiciary was expected because the matter is of national importance with far reaching consequences. Judiciary could have termed the delay and vacillation by the political parties as criminal negligence, and could have acted strongly and promptly rather than reprimanding the government and asking them to submit affidavits during endless hearing sessions and thus allowing the matter to drag on indefinitely. It appears that Judiciary have played safe and have avoided any confrontation with the political class in power. Obviously, this is a direct fall out of the political establishment becoming too dominant and consequently weakening of the Judiciary which in turn has greatly contributed to disturbing the equilibrium of our monolithic democratic structure. Considering the present situation and in light of our experience in the recent past, we may not expect any intervention by the Judiciary in near future, lest they are blamed by the polity for alleged over-activism.
The other agency, which could have put some pressure are the teachers serving in our primary, secondary and higher secondary schools. Acute shortage of teachers is undoubtedly subjecting them to tremendous amount of strain, which is ultimately affecting the standard of education. They should have fought for it, not only for their own sake, but for the future of students and the country. Except for few protests here and there, they didn't put up a strong fight. But why?
The straight forward answer is, they are scared. We must realise, in the present democratic set up, the atmosphere has been vitiated by political parties to such an extent, any person raising a voice of protest, is immediately branded as enemy of the state. In spite of great suffering the teachers undergo every day, you don't expect them to act as emotional fools and sacrifice their career or even their life.
Thus in the present situation, unless some miracle happens, I do not foresee any possibility of filling up the vacancies of teachers immediately and I am not prepared to hazard any guess as to how long it is going to take.
So far as infrastructure in suburban and village schools is concerned, the picture is dismal with insufficient class rooms, very few furniture, no electricity, no fan etc. I can give thousand and one examples of schools bringing out the present state of affairs, but will restrict myself to only one or two. In the whole of Basanti Block in South 24 Parganas, out of a total of TWENTY TWO High Schools, Science Subjects are taught only in TWO schools in Classes X to XII, because there are no qualified teachers as well as properly equipped laboratories. Isn't it shocking? Located in the same Block, Nafarganj Baidyanath Bidyapith with two thousand four hundred students, there is no infrastructure for teaching Science Subjects. As per my calculations, approximately ninety five percent students studying in different schools in Basanti Block are being deprived of an opportunity to study science subjects. We must realise that these students, so deprived, will never be able to appear in Joint Entrance Examinations and become doctors, engineers or scientists in future. Above all, they will never develop a scientific temperament in their life. I am certain, situation in other Blocks as well as other Districts of the State is not very different. In this age of tremendous progress in science and technology, isn't it a matter of shame?
How a teacher in such schools will ever have the courage in asking his/her student as to what is his/her ambition in life? How will he/she be able to face a student when he/she replies, I want to be a rocket scientist like Abdul Kalam or a scientist like Jagadish Chandra Bose or a doctor like Bidhan Chandra Roy? Though it will be nothing but a day dream to imagine that each one of these students will become a world famous scientist, shouldn't we at least expect them to develop a scientific temperament, which is so very important for in shaping the future citizens of our nation.
Bluff and deceit perpetuated and practiced by those who are at the helm of affairs and a total control all our thoughts and activities day in and day out, have permeated so deep into our bone marrow and have rendered us so insensitive that we no longer feel insulted and hang our heads in shame when a student in a village school stands up and asks, sir, what is my fault that I will never get a chance to become a doctor or an engineer? And while fabricating a deceitful answer interwoven with vague philosophical complexity, we would often lull ourselves into believing that we have been able to impress the student so much, henceforth he is going to respect us like a God, and chant the holy mantra while prostrating at our feet, Guru Brahma, Guru Bishnu, Guru hi Parameshwara ......
In this scenario, reason for occasional outburst of anger and violence by students, to the extent of manhandling of teachers which we witness these days, is not difficult to explain. A teacher can never teach anything unless students respect him from the core of their heart, and that respect can only be gained by being truthful and transparent, and certainly not through deceit or bluff.
It is not only poor infrastructure or inadequate number of teachers, but also quality of the teachers which is also affecting the standard of education. But what is the reason for this poor quality of teachers? Couldn't we get better teachers in this vast country with a population of 125 crores? Certainly we could have, if we tried. But why didn't we try?
The answer is not very difficult to find. It is because we left the future of our students as well as the serious business of nation building entirely at the hands of incompetent and selfish politicians, totally engrossed in a singular mission of acquiring more power and more money for themselves.
Let's see how they made a hash of the primary and secondary education system. In their domain of scanty knowledge they believe, it is only the pilots flying their air planes must have the required aptitude to safely take off or land the air plane or their marks man NSG to hit the bull at the practice firing range.
It is beyond their ability to comprehend that someone with very good academic record and excellent communication skills may not have the aptitude for teaching, particularly, at primary and secondary school levels. A close look at the existing examination system for recruitment of teachers will prove the point.
And after recruitment, teachers are neither put through any orientation course or upgradation programme and straightway sent to schools to teach. How can we expect them to deliver quality education without training or acquiring the required teaching skill? I must add here with humility that there are exceptions. But can we count on few exceptions for a whole system to run efficiently?
Acquiring knowledge and skill is a continuous process and like any other profession, this is equally applicable to teachers. Particularly in this fast changing world of science and technology, where new methods of learning are being innovated and introduced every day, if the teachers are unable to keep themselves abreast with the latest changes and innovations, they are bound to become outdated and ineffective in no time.
Apart from teaching skill, the question of dedication and motivation are extremely important, particularly now, when anything and everything other than material gain, such as ideals, ethics or morality have lost their importance in our daily life. Thus if the teachers today do not follow the examples of their predecessors in sacrifice everything for the sake of their students, they cannot be blamed. I strongly feel, until and unless the overall environment of the society, including the character of all- pervasive dirty politics is changed and high moral values restored among all sections of the society, expecting teachers alone to behave selflessly like Dronacharya, is nothing but asking for the moon.
When we get the news that countries like Kenya are taking long strides in improving the standard of education by adopting innovating techniques like e-learning, we certainly feel sad. Though the present picture is rather depressing with no solution to the problem in sight, we shouldn't simply sit idle waiting for mercy to be showered from the heavens or from the Sarkar. We should keep on trying small little things, with whatever limited resource each one of us have.
Authorities in the Govt. Education department haven't paid adequate attention while devising the syllabi so that the integration between primary to secondary as well as secondary to higher secondary is seamless and there are no gaps in the standards. At present, there being wide gaps, students find it extremely difficult to cope up with the syllabus during their transition from primary to secondary or secondary to higher secondary.
I have seen students struggling with English syllabus and unable to cope up with the English lessons which they find too difficult when promoted from Class Two to Class Three. This is because English is not taught in Classes One and Two and students start learning English only in Class 3. What is the problem of including English in the syllabus of Classes One and Two so that they acquire adequate knowledge in the subject when promoted to Class Three from Class Two? Though these are very minor issues which can be resolved very easily by the concerned authorities of Education Department and does not call for much additional resource, their lack of interest is clearly demonstrated by their inaction, in spite of prodding and nudging.
The other problem affecting the standard of education is the present method of evaluation of performance by the students. There is no set standard, and it is now being done in an ad hoc and arbitrary manner. As I just said, not much effort or resource is required on the part of Education Department in bringing about the changes in the syllabus and set the anomalies in evaluation system right and the corresponding benefit will be huge. But who can wake you up when you sleep with eyes wide open!
I shall bring to fore another small issue with a big impact. Unless the school children, particularly in primary classes are provided with sufficient nutrition, they will suffer ill health and will not be able to absorb education with due attention, however high standard the education imparted may be. Nutritional value of free mid day meal now being provided in schools is so low, that it is a sure method of producing millions of poor children studying in village schools with under-developed brains and weak bodies. And the Govt. surely knows, a vast section of rural population with under developed brain and body shall never be able to acquire higher skills or higher education, and thus never be qualified to demand jobs requiring higher skills or education. They are also aware that their slogan of Skill India is meant only for the urban rich who can afford food with adequate nutrition for their school going children and not depend on midday meals unlike a vast population living in far flung villages.
Sources (Enclosed for ready reference in 16 pages )
Pratham's Annual Status of Education:2013 Report
India to take 126 years to reach global education standards: A Report by Assocham
Sharp decline in education standard across country: Pratham's Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2012.
India will be late by 50 years in achieving education goals: UNESCO
Shortage of teachers in primary and secondary schools: Govt. of India, Ministry of HRD