Guwahati- Assam's education system faces immense pressure, with many schools grappling with infrastructure deficiencies and teacher shortages in the aftermath of Covid lockdowns. Meanwhile, in a significant announcement, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced plans to construct an additional 4,000 schools, promising these new institutions within a five-year span.Using the Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) contract approach, the government aims to establish these schools.
A simple mathematical calculation will tell one that it means 800 schools to be built in 1 year and around 2 schools will be built in 1 day. This not only sounds like a big stretch to lure voters but also begs us to ask why can the resources not be used in making the already present scenario any better?While the CM's announcement of building 4,000 schools within five years might seem ambitious, critics raise concerns about existing issues that demand attention rather than focusing solely on expansion.
A report published by the Union education ministry, 'Unified District Information System for Education Plus' (UDISE+), highlighted the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Assam's schools. The report indicates that more than 4,500 schools in the region had to shut down in the year 2021-22. The count of primary schools decreased from 43,591 to 40,482, while upper primary schools decreased from 11,789 to 10,672 during the same period.
The total school enrolment declined by 37,049 students, dropping from 7,582,019 in 2020-21 to 7,544,960 in 2021-22. The dropout rates also saw a significant rise, with primary school dropout rates increasing from 3.3% to 6.02% and upper primary school rates from 4.6% to 8.8%. The cumulative count of students who dropped out during this period amounted to 129,543.
Shortage of Teachers: Education Minister Ranoj Pegu disclosed the dire shortage of educators in the state. The shortage of educators in Assam has had a profound and distressing impact, particularly in the state's schools. Pegu informed the cabinet in September of 2023 about the dire situation of the education system. The situation is appalling in terms of a shortage of teachers, where an alarming gap of 15,752 teaching positions remains unfilled.
This deficiency means that many students across various regions are denied the opportunity to receive the high-quality education they rightfully deserve. Furthermore, the scarcity of personnel is not confined to teaching roles alone; it also extends to non-teaching positions, with a total of 2,830 such positions remaining vacant. In Assam, there is a pressing shortage of 1,686 head teacher positions, 320 principal positions in schools, and 499 vice-principal positions in both schools and colleges. These leadership roles are indispensable for the efficient administration and operation of educational institutions, and the unfilled vacancies present notable difficulties.
The shortfall of 860 assistant professor positions across different colleges has intensified the struggle to uphold the standard of education. The absence of these teaching professionals not only disrupts academic advancement but also impacts the research and development activities of these institutions. State-run universities in Assam are additionally contending with a critical deficit in teaching roles, compounding the immediate demand for well-qualified educators. This scarcity extends to 465 teaching positions within these universities, posing a significant risk to the overall quality of higher education in the state.
In April of 2023, while responding to a question by Shivasagar MLA and activist Akhil Gogoi, revealed the state of resources. Numerous schools in Assam suffer from insufficient infrastructure and a deficiency of drinking water amenities. Ranoj Pegu disclosed that 1,616 schools lack access to clean drinking water, 1,140 schools are in need of permanent structures, and 511 schools continue to operate without electricity. Despite the state government's Vidyanjali initiative receiving a generous donation of over 71,356 fans for schools, the scarcity endures, with a minimum of 48,649 more fans required. Furthermore, 14,587 schools are in need of building repairs, and 22,724 schools require additional classrooms.
The term "Engineering, Procurement and Construction" (EPC) represents a specific type of contract used widely in various countries. In this arrangement, the EPC contractor assumes full responsibility for all stages of the project, encompassing design, procurement, construction, commissioning, and delivering the completed project to the end-user or owner. For example, the Delhi Rail Metro. The Delhi Metro is one of the largest and most successful metro rail projects in India. It has relied on numerous EPC contracts for its expansion and development.