Calcutta, Sept 5: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee admitted today that his government had failed to include nearly 24 lakh students at the secondary level.
Addressing the annual function organised by the state school education department to observe Teachers’ Day at Rabindra Sadan, Bhattacharjee regretted that a large number of students, who complete the primary level till Class IV, cannot enter the secondary stage.
“Though the main reason is their poverty, our government is determined to retain as many children as possible in the schools when they reach the secondary stage,” he said.
Talking about the state’s performance in universalising elementary education, Bhattacharjee said 30 per cent of the children between the age group of six and nine are yet to be brought under the system. These students are being deprived of elementary education despite the fact that there are 52,000 primary schools and 14,000 sishu siksha kendras across the state.
“Our government has been able to increase the number of engineering institutions from nine to 48 in the last three years. We have set up some new universities also. Besides, institutes of advanced studies in emerging areas like biotechnology and information technology are also coming up soon. But only expansion in the field of higher education will not serve the purpose. Instead, we should focus on expanding elementary education,” the chief minister said.
Bhattacharjee said his government has taken a string of measures to stop children belonging to financially backward families from leaving schools. For instance, he said, the government has made arrangements for mid-day meals in some schools in the rural belt. “We cannot prevent the children from leaving schools unless we can provide them food in classrooms.”
The government, Bhattacharjee added, is also trying to launch vocational courses in schools for children who cannot afford higher education.
State school education minister Kanti Biswas, who also addressed the function, rued the government’s failure to clear post-retirement benefits due to thousands of schoolteachers. With the state facing severe financial constraints, the government has decided to withhold a substantial amount of teachers’ post-retirement benefits, including gratuity.