Saturday, October 20, 2018

Disheartening condition of teaching profession in West Bengal


A Teacher

West Bengal witnessed a violent Panchayat election this year. Among the several cases of casualty includes the unnatural death of Rajkumar Roy, an Assistant Teacher, who was serving as a Presiding Officer in a polling booth in the Balurghat region. After a long time, West Bengal witnessed a huge participation of teachers, protesting against the alleged murder of Rajkumar Roy. Interestingly, this time, quite a few apparently apolitical teachers’ forum took the lead. Moreover, social networking also played a significant part in giving vent to several issues relating to their profession, and also voiced against the lack of security that they have to witness during every election. Thus, it would be wrong to suppose that the incident of teachers’ protest relates only to this seemingly killing of an Assistant Teacher, during the poll time. Rather, this movement should be viewed as an integral part of the discontentment among teachers, which had been developing for the last few years. To address this issue, a detailed study of the working condition of teachers serving in schools of West Bengal, is needed.   


The change in the political scenario in Bengal following the Assembly Election (2011) was welcomed by people belonging to various cross-sections of the society; needless to say, a large section of teachers engaged as Assistant Teachers in different Government Sponsored(Government Aided at that time) were among them. The newly elected Chief Minister announced that it would ensure salary at the beginning of the month. This was an issue, which had been persistently raised by leftist teachers’ associations since the early seventies. However, despite having taken many positive steps, this particular demand remained unfulfilled during the period of Left Front government. Thus, the new government’s role in ensuring this legitimate demand of the teachers gained support from teachers teaching in Government and Government Sponsored Schools in Bengal. However, as time rolled on, a section among them, who had earlier jubilantly accepted this political change, were shocked to trace certain changes that were affecting their working environment. And no doubt, after the completion of one electoral term, the scenario of schools in West Bengal is far from being satisfactory. Relying upon doles as the chief weapon for ensuring electoral victory, the ruling party has dished out a plethora of policies of distributing among students gifts like bicycles, bags, shoes etc.  Schools have become a centre for distributing such gifts to students. For the last five years, only once the government could successfully conduct the School Service Commission examination properly. In most of the cases erroneous panels are creating legal problems; this has caused an unending delay in the recruitment process. As a consequence, scarcities of teaching faculties are a common problem that can be noticed in many schools. In many cases, there exists a disproportionate and irregular staff pattern. The recent pathetic incident of two students’ death in police firing in Islampur may be recalled, in this context. The school, which had quite a few vacant posts, was forced to accept the appointment of an Urdu teacher and a Sanskrit teacher in the Higher Secondary level, where there were no such demand for such recruitments. This was the cause of the students’ protest that took the lives of two ex-students of that institution.

It is the general belief of our society that, only a private school can ensure the future of the students. The impact of this notion can be traced among people belonging to a large section of society. Nowadays, even people belonging to a financially weaker section of our society leave no stone unturned to send their children to private schools. Owing to this hegemony of our society, in which the media plays a significant part, private schools have mushroomed not only in Kolkata, but also in rural areas of our state. Arbitrary changes in the curriculum, the inclusion of no-detention policy in Secondary schools till class VIII, a policy, which has already created diverse opinion among the policy makers, as well as its implementers, the teachers, have also contributed to this sickening condition of schools in Bengal.

Sadly, when the government is incapable to take positive measure for the betterment of these schools, in most cases, teachers are being made liable for the degeneration of School education in Bengal. Very recently, the government has implemented new rules and has brought out certain changes that will have a significant impact upon the working condition of teachers in Bengal. For instance, the government has introduced compulsory transfer of teachers and non-teaching employees of Government sponsored and Government aided schools in Bengal (No.227-ES/S/1S-4/95 Date-12.03.08).  If teachers belonging to a sick institution are being shifted to nearby schools, nothing is to be objected. However, uncertainty looms large, whether such measures will be implemented or not for political purpose, to infuse terror among teachers, who are supporters, or sympathizers of other political organizations. The repressive measures already taken by the government to ensure cent percent attendance on the day of a general strike gives us the indication that the abuse of such laws may likely to take place. In view of a recent strike called by opposition parties on 26th October, 2018, the Government of West Bengal took a drastic measure and declared that no casual leave would be granted on the day of general strike. Further, it was also communicated that no leave would be granted on the preceding day of the bandh, and also, on the following day of the bandh (No. 6159-F (2). Apart from taking strict measures to ensure the allegiance of teaching and non-teaching employees, like other government employees on the day of a general strike, the government has also drafted certain rules relating to the confirmation, conduct and discipline of teachers and non-teaching employees working in a government sponsored school in West Bengal. The said document has been published in the Kolkata Gazette (November 10, 2017). A close reading of the rules published in the draft can well establish the fact that, behind the apparent sincere motive of disciplining employees associated with teaching in government-sponsored schools, there is the keen intention to overpower them, to keep them under surveillance, and even to instill fear among teachers and non-teaching employees in order to win their allegiance.  It has been stated in that draft(No.986-SE/S/IA-10/2017) that before confirmation in the post of a teacher or non-teaching staff, the appointing authority must verify the character and antecedents of the concerned person through appropriate branches of the Police force. Further, in the sub clause no.4.5 of a section of the draft (No.984-SE/S/IA-10/2017), it has been stated that an Assistant Teacher will require a permission of his appointing authority in order to undertake writing or publishing a book by him, or as a co-author.  Also, it has been stated that before taking any legal action against the Board, the person should provide the concerned authority a scope to solve the problem (4.22). In his letter to the Principle Secretary of Government of West Bengal, Krishna Proshonna Bhattacharya, the General Secretary of A. B. T. A., a leftist teachers’ association, has rightly pointed out that the sub-clause 4(5), which puts restraint on the teachers’ right to write and publish, should be abolished (Siksha O Sahityo 35).

Why the government is so keen on imposing a bundle of restrictions on the teachers? Do we not notice a paranoiac reaction on the part of the government that is determined to nib into the bud, any voice of protest? I would once again refer to the letter of the general secretary of A.B. T. A. in this context. He has rightly pointed out that in the draft; an extra-ordinary power has been bestowed on the Board to control the secondary education system in West Bengal. He has also pointed out that in the draft little importance has been given to democratically elected bodies like the Managing Committee of the school.

Now coming back to our earlier issue, i.e., the discontentment among teachers and movements of teachers following the unusual death of a teacher during poll- time, we can conclude that the spontaneous protest that followed was not an isolated issue; it must be viewed with reference to the general degradation of teaching environment that has affected all, who are engaged in this profession. The advent of teachers’ forums over the internet, the eagerness to know each other, and to share their cause of woe, give us the opportunity to delve deep into the past and to remember the struggle of men and women, who were engaged in this profession. We must remember the struggle of those teachers who pioneered in voicing their legitimate demands, before and after the country’s independence. It would not be irrelevant here to cite a document included in the West Bengal State Archives (I. B.). The document entitled Teachers’ Associations & Conferences in Bengal includes a report on the 10th Teachers’ Conference that was held at Narayangunj, in Dhaka, in 1929. It is interesting to note that more than demanding enhancement of salaries and other financial benefits, the conference gave emphasis on giving teachers an opportunity to frame their curriculum. They voiced in favour of keeping adequate representation in the Text Book Committee.   We must not forget that at that time, most of the schools were run by local landlords, and the service security of a teacher was beyond their expectation. Nevertheless, a close reading of this document can testify the courage of the teacher, who took part in the movement and raised their democratic rights (157/29).

A baby that stops crying remains unfed. So goes a Bangla proverb. With the change of academic environment in Bengal, it is once again organized teachers’ movement that can ensure their democratic rights, and can meet up their professional requirements.

Works Cited
“Wife of slain presiding officer Rajkumar Roy calls his death cold-blooded murder”. India Today. 17 May 2018. Web.
“Death toll in police firing in Bengal rises to two; bandh hits normal life”. www.hindusthantimes.com. 21September 2018. Web.
Govt. of West Bengal. School Education Department. Compulsory Transfer of Teaching/Non-Teaching Employees.  227/-ES/S/1S-4/95. Salt Lake City, Kolkata: 12.03.2018. Web.
Govt. of West Bengal. Finance Audit Department. Treatment of Absence on 26.09. 2018. forBandh/Strike. Nabanna , Howrah: 26.09.2018. Web.
Govt. of West Bengal. School Education Department. Draft Rules.984-SE/S/1A-10/2017. Salt Lake City, Kolkata: 10.11.2017. “Sikha O Sahityo”. January 2018. Print.
Bhattacharya, Krishna Prosonna. “To Sri Dushant Nariala”.07.12.2017. Sikha O Sahityo”. January 2018. 35. Print.
Teachers’ Associations & Conferences in Bengal. I.B. Records of the State Archives. Govt. of West Bengal. F.N. 157/29.

The author is government school teacher in West Bengal

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