Assam Government Provincialising Tea Garden Schools a Case of 2 Steps Forward, One Step Back
On Tuesday, the Assam Government announced it had moved to provincialise 419 lower-primary schools currently under tea garden management across the state.
The change will see these schools receive midday meals, free textbooks and uniforms, and two government-funded teachers per school.
While People’s Action for Development welcomes the Government’s long-overdue initiative “in the public interest and in the academic interest of tea garden community [sic]”, there are serious concerns about the impact of these changes on teaching and school management which remain unaddressed.
The announcement stipulated that existing teachers will not be provincialised, but could remain in their posts while continuing to be funded by tea garden management.
In reality, the decision to install government-funded teachers puts local teachers out of work and threatens existing student-teacher and teacher-community relationships forged over many years. Government-appointed teachers would be drawn from a state-wide pool, and new teachers may have little knowledge of the society and culture of tea garden communities.
This week, PAD staff visited 10 tea estates in Lakhimpur District and spoke to teachers working in lower primary schools who will be affected by the changes.
Overall, the teachers have received little detailed information about the changes or when they will come into effect, and they are concerned they will be forced to leave their jobs when government teachers arrive, if tea garden management refuses to continue paying them.
A teacher who has been working at one of the schools since 2015 explained that they only had three teachers for 140 students. Classes 1-3 learn together in one classroom with over 70 students for one teacher. Another school we visited had 4 teachers for over 200 students.
All of the schools PAD visited had pupil-teacher ratios well above the required 30:1 ratio for primary schools outlined in the Right to Education Act 2009.
Another teacher we spoke to had worked at the school for 10 years and hadn’t received a pay increment since he started. He explained he is paid the same daily wage as tea garden workers (232 rupees/day, or US$2.83) and is made to work several hours in the tea garden factory each day after classes end to reach the required 8-hour day for his pay. Despite working for a decade, he is still classed as a ‘temporary worker’ in the tea garden, meaning he isn’t eligible for the full benefits available to ‘permanent’ workers, such as housing.
All the teachers we spoke to are apprehensive and uncertain about their future. They have been told the changes are coming, but there is no clear timeline for the takeover, and no clarity on what will happen to their jobs when the government teachers arrive. Many are concerned they are being directly replaced by government teachers.
...if local community teachers are forced to leave their posts, it would cause severe disruption to students and their families and negatively impact learning and attendance in the future.
On the one hand, the current situation in tea garden-managed schools is untenable, with many facilities either out of date, broken or absent altogether. PAD has witnessed a number of schools with toilets in unusable condition, no running water, and classrooms abandoned due to leaking roofs.
For these reasons, it is hoped that the move to bring these schools under government control will lead to improvements and positive changes after decades of neglect at the hands of tea garden management.
However, it is a classic case of two steps forward, one step back: if local community teachers are forced to leave their posts, it would cause severe disruption to students and their families and negatively impact learning and attendance in the future.
A number of teachers PAD spoke to have been working in their local community for many years, and they have formed strong relationships with families in the tea garden. We heard that teachers have taken the initiative and often check up personally with parents if their children are absent from class. They also help to encourage parents to continue sending their children to school, stressing the importance of education for the future. These teachers are trusted and respected members of their community and act as important role models for young children growing up in the tea gardens.
PAD is gravely concerned that much of this good work building relationships with families in the community and instilling the importance of education in children will be lost if these teachers are forced to leave and are replaced with teachers from other cultures and communities. It takes a long time for relationships to form between students, their families and teachers, and the consequences for education outcomes in the interim could be extremely damaging. Further, by only allocating 2 teachers per school, it shows no significant attempt has been made to redress the extremely high pupil-teacher ratios in many schools, which may become even worse if tea garden-funded teachers are forced to leave.
People's Action for Development is calling on the Assam government to urgently provide more clarity on the future for tea garden-funded school teachers, who remain anxious, uninformed and uncertain about their future. The consequences for them and thousands of tea garden children remain too large to ignore.