Education in Northeast
- Part 1 -

By:- Partha Jyoti Borah *

Elementary education is the building block of the nation. In a country like India, a mass elementary education policy ensuring universal education for all is the need of the hour. But elementary education remains a major worry for the country.

The central government in its part is, however, trying to decentralise the primary education ensuring the involvement of many grass root level agencies including - Panchayati Raj institutions, School Management Committees, Village and Urban Slum Level Education Committees, Parents' Teachers' Associations, Mother Teacher Associations, Tribal Autonomous Councils etc.

In spite of all efforts the literacy rate in the country in 2001 was mere 65.38 percentage. The problem of school drop-out still could not be checked. The picture appears grim in the case of girl students.

The Department of Elementary Education is one of the biggest central agencies in India employing the largest pool of human resources. Throughout India, such departments cater to 180-200 million children between the ages of 6-14 years.

India has nine structures of schooling in terms of various management, exam board, medium of instruction etc. Moreover, parallel structures like Sarba Siksha Abhiyan are enthused.

Ostensibly, social prejudice, red tape and politics have become an integral part of the system. And tussle among them has deeper implication on the functioning of the Department of Elementary Education as well as its mandate of providing and ensuring equal and quality education for all.

Moreover, the colonial fabric is very prominent in the education system which is largely seen as a career - a job in which "accountability is a negotiable process". The new thrust towards progressive education which requires a decentralised teaching method and a subjective and sensitive learning has largely remained a mere orientation, imposed from outside. And the impermeable system is incapable of imbibing it.

The Northeastern part of the country is not very different in this regard. If not the rigid social prejudices are prominent in those states like other North Indian states, but the ongoing political movements (armed or non-violent) have a deep impact on the education scenario of the region. However, amid all these, ambitious programmes like Sarba Siksha Abhiyan and Mid-day meal have been a ray of hope.

The Assam Human Development Report (AHDR) in 2003 revealed that - at the primary level, the enrollment rate for girls is 48 per cent. At the higher secondary level, the enrollment rate is slightly over 35 percent. The drop-out rate for girls is 42 per cent at the primary stage, 72 per cent at the middle school and 75 per cent at the high school.

The overall illiteracy among tribal women in the state is strikingly 75 percent. The elementary education in Assam, like other states has been trapped in corruption leading to such disheartening statistics.

Meanwhile, when we talk about empowering students with knowledge by bringing the newest and most scientific method of learning through National Curriculum Framework' 2005 (NCF), it is also important that we should empower the teachers. However, the NCF's move in terms of changing the syllabus by bringing in activity based and child centred learning is praiseworthy.

The NCERT (National Council For Education Research and Training) has empahsised on "learning without burden." NCERT has also cut down the number of textbooks for class i to class xii. No doubt, innovative ways of teaching have been implemented in the primary level to imbibe social ethos and to give away prejudices among the children.

For instance the "Talking Pictures" show a household where the father is cooking, the mother is fixing a bulb, the son is cleaning the household and the daughter has just come from the school. Societal stigma where certain works are fixed for certain gender, could be removed by showing such pictures and dignity of labour and gender equality could be taught and imbibed at the entry level.

But the concern is with the teachers. In Assam the population pattern is complex. The societal norms (read stigma) vary with places. A child from 'char' area comes with mindset different from a child from tea tribe. So, universal norms of elementary education don't apply here. So, the effective implementation depends on a comprehensive role of the teachers, largely, of the Headmaster.

When the there is a growing demand of Indian teachers in the west and the African countries, the teachers in their own country perceive the elementary education in terms of examination assessment. The teacher training institutes have a bigger role to play. The National Council for Teachers' Education brought forth a relevant point in this regard.

In a document it said, "It is with the objectives of raising the professional status of teachers, developing among them greater commitment to society, their students and their profession, increasing their professional competencies and performance skills."

Unfortunately many recommendations of the council could not be implemented due to lack of allegiance from the government. The teachers training college should be attached to the schools so that trainee teachers could spend most part of the training season in the schools.

In Assam many schools in the rural hinterland are equipped with only one teacher. The infrastructure is also abysmal. The 2006 report of Auditor and Comptroller General revealed that many schools of Assam (and Bihar) are running from a single room against the prescribed norms of atleast two rooms with veranda. There is no separate room for the Headmaster in 4427 schools of Assam (and Bihar).

This is one of the prime causes of mushrooming of the English medium schools even in rural and semi-townships of Assam. The Mid-day meal program, an initiative by former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu K Kamraj is, nonetheless, a successful move in terms of attaining attendance in primary schools.

However, reported social prejudices in the name of caste and religion for instance separate eating place for Dalits in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar etc is unfortunate. But, the reported social discrimination on the basis of caste and religion in some places of Assam is shocking.

In a recent incident, in Sonitpur district some 'non-tribal Assamese' parents raised their voice against the cooking of meal by two mothers from tea-tribe. As the schools don't have the vacancies for permanent cooks, mothers of two students are fixed every month to do the cooking.

The government distributes rice (and wheat) free of cost and allots Rs 2 per child every day for other food stuff. Here the headmaster and the assistant teachers have a greater role to play as it is their duty to eliminate the 'genetically' ingrained parity from the mindset of the students.

to be continued.....

* Partha Jyoti Borah is Editor, The Northeast Voice, an English Monthly published from Delhi, and regularly contributes to . They can be contacted at nevoice(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted at on 16th April 2009.

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