Improving only Presidency won't help education in Bengal

Written by: Shubham Ghosh

Noted professor Sukanta Chaudhuri has resigned from the Presidency University Mentor Group. He alleged that the government was making a discriminatory move by not taking into consideration other universities in the state despite the fact that they too have good professors and teachers. Prof Chaudhuri's resignation is undoubtedly a big blow for the Mamata Banerjee government's plans to take back the Presidency University to its old glory.

The professor's charges are not unreal. The quest to improve the standard of the Presidency by the Mamata Banerjee administration is moved more by wishful thoughts and clearly reveals a lack of consistency in its stand on the state's education sector as a whole. Whether 'Paribartan' or not, the current chief minister has clearly failed to chart out a route to revive the declining education despite claiming that she was bent to take back Bengal to its glorious days.


Improving only the Presidency is a hollow dream

How can we even expect that the Presidency will regain its glory while the rest of the state continues to lag behind in education? The new government has not taken care of the growing violence in the educational institutes across the state or ensure that guardians face little problem in admitting their children in schools. It has not stressed the basic education and has only tried to address the problem with a top-down approach. This is a futile exercise and the exit of Professor Chaudhuri just proved that.

The Mamata Banerjee government, unlike in the case of industrialisation, made a positive gesture to improve the condition in the education sector. It had vowed to depoliticise the education sector but there has been hardly any institutional move or scheme to make things better. The move on Presidency excited some for a while but soon the ambitious project hit realistic hurdles. That politics have not spared the field of education was proved by the violence that erupted on the premises of various institutes under the new regime. Some of Mamata's ministers even disagreed to attach much importance to such instances. There have been instances where college principals and school teachers have been beaten up or where students protested for not allowing to cheat during their examinations. This is the true picture.

Looking back policy in the name of cultural nationalism?

But amid all this, we see a cultural nationalism trying to make its presence felt under the new regime. Mamata Banerjee has made it a habit of remembering Rabindranath Tagore and Kavi Nazrul Islam at every other instance besides garlanding photographs of Bengali heroes of yesteryears to assert a Bengali identity. On the other hand, the talent pool in the state is turning poorer owing to lack of economic opportunities and a suddenly-turned rich class lacking the actual intellectual skill for the betterment of society is calling most shots with considerable political patronage.

Reviving education sector is a very difficult challenge

Having said that, it is not easy for Mamata Banerjee to change the state of education in Bengal. It is even difficult than the problem of lack of industrialisation. The former Left Front government had systematically destroyed the education sector by inducting loyalists and not welcoming real talents. One Left leader was once heard saying: "We have Nirupam Sen (the former industries minister). What is the necessary to call Amartya Sen?" Education was turned into a party affair and meritocracy was deliberately sacrificed. The English language and computer were not allowed to enter the state by the 'friend of the poor' Left Front and it broke the backbone of a talented race.

How to absorb a 'time-passing' generation?

Today, if we move around a locality in Kolkata, we see people, both old and young, carelessly passing away time at tea stalls or roadside benches by engaging in shallow talks. Many among these youths earn their livelihood from local businesses (like say cable TV service operation) or by giving tuition (another flourishing trade) to students or just by remaining party cadres. By saying party cadres, earlier it was meant that they belonged to the Left parties but after the change of guards, many have changed affiliation to the Trinamool Congress. The scenario in remote areas in the state can be imagined easily if this is the situation in the state capital.

How do the new political leadership plan to absorb the huge unskilled and largely unemployable population in the economy? Human resource is an important factor in any economy, but what if there are only human and no resources left following the brain drain? How long can political patronage and not actual economic development sustain these people? There is no doubt that lack of productive work is leading to a spill-over effect in the Bengali society today in terms of rising crimes. Has Mamata Banerjee thought anything on these lines?

Assault education will dig the graves

The only hope that Bengal has today is education. Being a culturally and historically gifted race in terms of intellectual thought and reaction, it is very important to ensure that the crucial supply line of the intellect is not destroyed, even though it is already a battered one today.

A big worry for Bengal today is that its dynamic middle class is at the receiving end. It is a state of instability with many fleeing the state while others leading a life of stagnancy. The vacuum has been filled up by a political class, which though calls itself anti-Left, but actually works as an imitator of the Left. Mamata Banerjee's party and government, in a way, is a prisoner of the past and resorts to another ultra-politicisation model while talking of freeing the society from the shackles of the over-politicisation model of the Left, which has only seen a sharp decline in moral standards.

Root problems need to be addressed

Improving the education sector will not take place in a vacuum. There are several socio-economic factors that need to be stressed if the government really aims to lead Bengal back to its golden years. Lack of infrastructure in basic education like schools or toilets for girl children, lack of technical education, high rate of school drop-outs, poverty and social issues like child marriage, politicisation of lessons in schools, are some of the crucial issues that need urgent remedies. Only a strengthened socio-economic base can improve the educational standards and vice-versa. Decorating the Presidency by bringing in teachers from abroad is just a waste of time.

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