Gone are the times when Bengal represented a class of academic intellectuals. Today the truth behind the Bengal’s education sector is completely different. As per the Performance Grading Index (PGI) 2017-2018 reports of all states and union territories on school education, published by the MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development) earlier this year, West Bengal has been placed in the fifth grade out of the present seven.
This statement has been based on the scores given by the five heads of PGI. Although this is in stark contrast to the image masses often associate with West Bengal’s education system. Being the land of scholars like Rabindranath Tagore, Sankha Ghosh, Nirendranath Chakraborty, economists Ashok Mitra and Amiya Bagchi etc. This state from aeons has taken so much pride in their education and culture, that these results are terribly painful to digest.
According to the Pratham Report, 25 per cent of Class VIII students fails to read text from Class II books and 56 per cent of them cannot do simple division.
Once a prestigious academic institution, Jadavpur University has now been turned into a hotbed of student politics and hooliganism. With jingoistic slogans like ‘Bhoomi-Putra’, ‘Azaadi’ politicians seem to be brainwashing the youth to fulfil their own disguised agendas. Campus violence, mass copying, irregularities in admission are some of the results of the current situation in Bengal. Student movements are going widespread not just in the state but outside as well and most of the time there is a political agenda or vendetta behind it. Students are compromising their careers and wasting their time on petty crimes and are thus being forced to add to the present state of anarchy.
Further, there is extreme apathy from the state to provide proper academic infrastructure and the Midday Meal plan is turning out to be a disaster. The government seemingly is hell-bent on preventing any form of academic autonomy. Union elections are getting called off and democratically elected bodies are still finding it difficult to have a say in any matter related to the education.
A number of schools aided by the state government in West Bengal lack basic infrastructure such as blackboards, classrooms, libraries, laboratories and teachers. And while such is the scenario, the administration has decided to spend Rs 500 crore on painting the school buildings.
This has obviously generated a widespread outrage in the state as there are approximately 67,000 schools in West Bengal across all categories which includes primary (till class 4), upper primary (class 8), secondary (class 10) and higher secondary (class 12) and all of it is either directly run by the state government or are aided financially.
CPI(M) politburo and Lok Sabha member MD Salim says, “It is wasteful expenditure. It’s an attempt to keep the chief minister in good humour and a ploy to fool the people by lending polish on the surface while schools lack basic necessities. The total number of vacancies in state-run schools in Bengal is more than 6,000.”
“Hospitals lack in infrastructure but are getting fresh paint. Schools are now getting similar treatment. This is a matter of disgrace,” says Abdul Mannan, a senior Congress Legislator and leader of opposition in Bengal assembly. Mannan himself used to be a school teacher and he even highlighted this 500 crore expenditure on painting school building as another evidence of Government missing out on priorities.
Rahul Sinha, BJP national secretary and party former state president, remarked that he is not surprised while saying, “There is an acute shortage of teachers. Existing teachers are not getting dearness allowance or arrears, the quality of midday meals is deteriorating. I wonder how can a government spend on painting in such a situation.”
West Bengal education minister Dr Partha Chatterjee tried to defend the government by saying, “Painting schools does not mean we are neglecting infrastructure. On the contrary, painting is a part of the infrastructure. Creating controversy is pointless.”
Even the West Bengal Teachers and Teaching Assistants Association are not in awe of this move. In fact, its joint secretary, Mr Swapan Mondal, has termed this move as fanciful.
For the year 2017-18, the government allocated about Rs 9,660 crore as the planned budget for the education sector. In the year 2016-17, this amount was Rs 9,000 crore instead. It is evident that these budgets are mere hypothetical numbers, whose usage is not evident to either the taxpayers or the masses. Students and parents are increasingly getting disheartened with the state of affairs in West Bengal and its time that the government takes serious some actions to spruce up the education scenario of the state.