Of Education and Tea
Basic education links the children, whether of the cities or the villages, to all that is best and lasting in India
Assam lies in India’s Northeast, one of its remotest and most problematic regions. Development often competes with tradition, in predominantly tribal communities that have lived the same lifestyle for thousand of years. In fact traditionally, many of the Northeastern states were independent kingdoms in their own right, until India’s independence.
Assam is a wild and challenging place, particularly due to its inaccessible terrain, floods and remote tribal pockets and cultural diversity.
An early 2002 survey of 14 districts in Assam revealed that out of 3,069,929 children in the state, 35percentwere out of school. That’s 1 in every 3 children had no education at all. In Tea garden areas this percentage was as high as 43 percent. More than 6000 communities did not have a school within 1.5kms and 80,000 children under 14 years had to work for a living.
The purpose of the survey was to create a database on the educational status of most of the children of Assam, to create awareness among the population and to involve Village councils in the education process. The state government thus committed itself to UEE (Universal Elementary Education) for all children under 14.
There goals included having all children in schools or informal schools etc.. by 2003 and giving all children a complete eight years of elementary education by 2010.
By conducting the survey, the location of every ‘out of school’ child in Assam was known according to their age, sex and community. By involving VEC (Village Education Councils), education could be controlled locally as local communities took pride and responsibility for their schools. By utilizing this positive approach, the Assam government (as of mid-2003), has achieved:
- An extra 8.5 lakh out of school children enrolled in primary school.
- 2 lakh children enrolled in class 2 via bridge courses aimed at children who have never been to school. Such kids were put through a 45 day package of activities and games to prepare them for ‘main stream’ education and to give them a chance at realizing their dreams.
- Tea gardens form the backbone of the Assamese economy, yet much of its labour is that of a child’s. Often children work, because their parents don’t have the money to feed them. Thus, tea garden Education Committees have been set up to share the cost with the government of free UEE. The mid-day meal program has been extended and all text books are offered for free.
- Free elementary education to recognized government/provincial schools. All children up to class 7 now receive free textbooks.
- All of the 40,000 schools in the state were photographed and surveyed. Thus the schools needing the most repairs were prioritized appropriately. School grants of 2000 and 5000 Rupees were given for infrastructure and repairs. All repairs made the most of cheap local labour and materials. 2000 building-less schools were also constructed.
- 600,000 members of VEC’s and local governing bodies were trained in UEE, and 70,000 teachers re-trained.
- From its energetic efforts it looks likely that the Assam government will soon achieve UEE. It’s unique strategy is centered around a belief that education is a fundamental ‘right’ to all children. Assam provides an example for all Indian states. Hopefully, by starting the ball rolling success will inspire success and more parents can be proud that their kids won’t miss out on their given education ‘right’