The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM)-led Left Front government of West Bengal has achieved another dubious distinction. It has failed and neglected to tap the huge cache allocated by the Central government to promote secondary school education in the states. Christened the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA, ‘national secondary education drive’), this centrally sponsored project was announced last year as an initiative to boost secondary education countrywide. A sum of Rs.20,120 crore has been allocated for the scheme during the Eleventh Plan (2007-2012), of which a sum of Rs.2 crore was granted to West Bengal in fiscal 2009-10 towards preparatory activities for implementing the RMSA programme in the state.
Explaining the secondary schools development programme to Parliament on August 3 last year, Union minister of state in the HRD ministry, D. Purand-eshwari said: “No predetermined state- wise allocation has been made, and Central assistance to state govern-ments will be based on appraisal of their annual plan proposals … (and) the scheme will be implemented by state governments.”
Under the RMSA programme, a generous grant of Rs.67 lakh per secondary is provided for upgrading infrastructure, building additional classrooms, improving laboratories and libraries, and providing basic amenities such as drinking water and toilets. But currently the grants are available only to state government-owned or spon-sored secondaries.
The Central government sponsored RMSA programme has unearthed the reality that during the past 33 years that the CPM-led Left Front has been in power in West Bengal, it has cruelly neglected secondary education. Although the state boasts 106,354 primaries and upper primaries, a survey conducted by the state government’s education department indicates that there are only 92 government or government-sponsored — 44 owned and 48 sponsored — and 11,500 government-aided private secondaries in West Bengal (pop. 80 million). Against this the state of Delhi (pop. 13.85 million) hosts 265 government-run secondaries and Meghalaya (pop. 3.2 million) boasts 11,500 government-aided private schools.
With its shocking neglect of public secondary education exposed, the embarrassed Left Front government is arguing in favour of clubbing government-owned and government-aided schools (“our aided schools are as good as government schools”) to qualify for the RMSA grant of Rs.67 lakh per school. However Union HRD ministry officials maintain this is possible only if the managing committees of aided secondaries are dismantled and filled with state government representatives, a condition that is likely to be struck down by the courts as most aided secondaries in the state are minority institutions.
“I am amazed the West Bengal government didn’t take an early initiative to impress upon the Central government that this policy will debar the huge number of aided schools with tens of thousands of children, from claiming RMSA assistance. This is bureaucratic sloth at its worst,” says Prasanta Ray, emeritus professor of sociology at Presidency College, Kolkata.
With West Bengal’s state legislative elections only 11 months away, the CPM will suffer another political setback. Meanwhile the state’s hapless primary school-leaving children are caught between a rock and hard place.
Sujoy Gupta (Kolkata)