Andher Nagari: West Bengal : Children’s Education

A colossal wastage of human resources in West Bengal

 For a party which does not believe either in freedom or in justice, popular education is an anathema, because educated persons can neither be driven nor easily ‘enslaved’ for narrow selfish and sectarian gain and private profit and advantage,

Extracts from an article in the Statesman

      Following that judgment and other action by the civil society groups, Article 21A ~ Right to Education ~ was inserted in the Constitution by the Eighty-Sixth Constitution Amendment Act 2002.

        The Article reads as follows: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may by law, determine”.


       The term State has been defined by the Constitution (Art.12) as follows “the State includes the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India”.
It is a comprehensive definition which includes all Statal  and para-statal organisations and entities. Thus the Constitution recognises free and compulsory education of all children between 6 and 14 years of age as a fundamental right.

        It may be of some interest to the members of the self-professed Marxist party which controls the State apparatus in West Bengal what the Marxian education policy is. The main component of the Marxian education policy is the following: “Free public education, compulsory and uniform for all children, assuring the abolition of cultural and knowledge monopolies and of privileged forms of schooling… This has to be an education in institution”. (A Dictionary of Marxian Thought: ed by Bottomore et al Oxford, U.K. 1983 pp 145-45).

       Thus apart from the Constitutional mandate, those who proclaim themselves as Marxists at least in public have the moral obligation to provide free and compulsory education through publicly run schools.

       As against this Constitutional and philosophical background, let us look at some of the hard facts of primary and secondary education in West Bengal.

       Statistical Handbook: West Bengal 2005-2006 (combined) published by the Bureau of Applied Economics and Statistics, Government of West Bengal, July, 2007, provides some interesting and dreadful facts.

        At the primary stage the total enrolment was 1.04 crore (see chart). As against this, the enrolment figure at the middle school stage was 33.92 lakh and the same for secondary stage was 14.05 lakh. Only 6.81 lakh out of the universe of 1.04 crore of primary student population could reach the Higher Secondary stage where the formal school education ended.

        One shudders at the colossal wastage of human resources in this process of moving from the lower to the higher stages of school education. If only 33.92 lakh students could go to the middle school from the primary stage, it meant 70 lakh (approx.) students fell by the wayside to lapse back to illiteracy soon, thus turning this human resource into brawnish biological entities. In fact, society’s time and money spent on them had become infructuous.

       More shocking was the fact that only 6.8% of the students who entered the primary stage could make it to the Higher Secondary stage which completed the period of school education.
Modern industries require knowledge-based workers. All sophisticated industrial units have to be highly automated. Some of them at the higher end of the technological spectrum would be robotised. 

       Workers in these units would require more cerebral power than muscular energy. Thus out of the student population of 1.04 crore at the primary stage, only 6.8% of them would be eligible to pursue higher courses to enable them to enter knowledge based labour market.

       What would happen to the other 93.2% of the student population? In all probability they would be hewers of wood and drawers of water for the miniscule elite of the Bengali society, including the super elites of the ruling establishment.

        This gigantic dissipation of blooming child power cannot be ascribed to personal failure of students only.

       Firstly, there is no infrastructure to accommodate about a crore or so of students at the middle and secondary stages.

         Secondly, the state did not provide any backup support system for the students who could not make the grade. “Free and compulsory education” implies that the state should provide for infrastructure and system to prevent such wanton destruction of massive potentials of young boys and girls.

        They are being forcibly pushed beyond the margin of civilised living. That is the supreme achievement of the CPI-M’s “glorious” mal-governance of three decades.

          One should also look at the quality of instruction that these students received at the school, particularly at the primary stage. In 2005-06 there were 50,522 primary and junior basic schools to cater to the educational needs of children between six and fourteen years.

        The average number of students per school was 208 (approx.) There are four classes I-IV in a primary school. Thus each class would have 52 students against the norm of 40 per class. To manage these four classes one would expect at least 4 teachers with one among them acting as the Head Teacher per school.

        The same Handbook (p 60, Table 3.4) shows the total number of teachers at the primary stage as 1,53,220 in 2005-06. It meant that on an average there were three teachers per school. Each teacher had to mange 69 students, perhaps, spread-over two classes. With the norm of 40 student per class total number of teachers should have been 2,02,088.

        Thus there is a shortage of 48,868 teachers. With this shortage of 48,868 teachers for the student population of 1.04 crore, the quality of teaching should better be left to the imagination of the readers.
It is no longer a matter of surprise that primary schools in this state generally turn out almost illiterate students at the end of a 4-year spell. It also, perhaps, partially explains this massive dropout of 70 lakh students between the primary and the middle stages. In course of time almost all of them would become stony men and women without letters.

        A slight scrutiny is also required about the enrolment figure at the primary level. There are some micro studies which showed that in the schools surveyed there were inflated figures. Since sanction of posts of teachers depended on the figures of enrolment, there could be an inherent bias to inflate the number of enrolment. But for this analysis I shall take the published figures as given and I would not contest them.

        A point which would arise would be, did this figure of 1.04 crore enrolment at the primary stage cover all the eligible children between 6 and 14 in this state as mandated by Article 21A of the Constitution? The Census of 2001 gave the figure of 1,54,48,428 children between 6 and 14. That was 2001. The rate of growth of population in this state according to the Registrar General of India was 1.93%. Thus the figure of eligible children in 2005-06, inclusive of incremental annual growth, would be 1,69,39198 (1,54,48428 + 14,90770).

          Against this target child population of 1.69 crore, the total enrolment figure of 1.04 crore indicated enrolment percentage of 61% which was way below the national Gross Enrolment Ratio of 93.54%. (Eleventh Five Year Plan Vol.II – Major Educational Statistics 2004-05, p 38).

        These figures are so self condemnatory that any further comment would be superfluous.

          hese 65 lakh children who had had no chance to get into any primary school and would have no chance of any formal schooling would constitute the hard core of illiterates of the state.
The situation would look more appalling if one added the figure of roughly 70 lakh dropouts between primary and middle stage with the hard core illiterate figure of 65 lakh making a total of 1.35 crore.

         Devoid of any education and even of literacy, they would eke out a miserable life of initially petty and then serious crime requiring the protection of the ruling party. In return they would provide the soldiery of the ruling party for all their heinous and abominable political crimes including the “cleansing operations” in Nanur, Chhoto Angaria, Garbeta, Nandigram and the like and would manipulate votes illegally to ensure safe return of the ruling party’s candidates.

         The ruling political establishment in West Bengal has thus a massive political vested interest in denying children between six and fourteen their fundamental right to be educated compulsorily and freely by the state.

      A savant once said: “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained”. But for a party which did not believe either in freedom or in justice, popular education was an anathema, because educated persons could neither be driven nor easily “enslaved” for narrow selfish and sectarian gain and private profit and advantage.

       Hence, children of West Bengal between six and fourteen are condemned to see darkness at noon as they grow up.

(The author was secretary to the Government of India, ministries of finance [revenue] and rural development and executive director, Asian Development Bank,Manila)  


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