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Bengal laggard in school report

New Delhi, Dec. 5: The eastern states continue to be bottom of the class in a report card released today by a central government education think tank.

Lakshadweep topped in both 2011-12 and 2012-13 among the 35 states and Union territories, according to the National University for Educational Planning and Administration’s report on elementary education in India.

Bengal has ranked 29 and 31 in the past two academic years while Jharkhand, Assam, Odisha and Bihar feature between numbers 22 and 35. The northeastern hill states have done better, with Sikkim bagging fourth spot in the last academic year.

Gujarat, touted by Narendra Modi as a development model, has slipped from ninth in 2011-12 to 18th the following year.

Former National Council of Educational Research and Training director Krishna Kumar cited several reasons for Bengal’s poor showing, such as:

Poor textbooks: A Bengal government agency prepares the syllabus and allows private publishers to publish the books, Kumar said.

“They need serious reforms in the curricula and textbooks,” he said.

Teacher qualification: Kumar said the qualification needed for a primary school teacher’s job in Bengal was Class X till recently, at a time all the other states had raised it to Class XII.

Teacher training: Bengal lacks enough teacher training institutes, so the number of untrained teachers is very high in the state.

Kumar stressed that all the eastern states needed to pull up their socks.

“The amount of attention the (eastern) state governments should give (to education) is not forthcoming. The old structure is still continuing in Bengal. Unfortunately, the process has not been started by the new government, either,” he said.

Asked about Gujarat, he said the state’s development model had largely remained confined to urban areas.

“There is a serious development gap in the rural and tribal areas of Gujarat. I’m not surprised that Gujarat has slipped from ninth to 18th,” Kumar said.

Arun C. Mehta, head of the department of education management and information systems at the National University for Educational Planning and Administration, stressed that the rankings were “relative”.

“If a state has slipped, it may not mean that it has done badly compared with the previous year. It may mean that the other states have progressed more than this state,” he said.

Each state received an Educational Development Index score based on these criteria:

Access: Number of schools per 10sqkm and per 1,000 children, and ratio of primary to upper primary schools.

Infrastructure: Proportion of schools with boys’ and girls’ toilets, ramps and kitchen sheds.

Teachers: Ratio of teachers to pupils and teachers’ qualifications (or the lack of it).

Outcomes: Number of teaching days, Dalit and tribal enrolment, dropout rates.

Data were collected from 15 lakh elementary schools across 662 districts. Lakshadweep scored 0.712 out of 1.00 for 2012-13. Last boy Jharkhand scored 0.452 while Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Odisha notched up 0.527, 0.527, 0.532 and 0.565, respectively.

Bengal education minister Bratya Basu was not available for comment. Assam education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said 28,000 pending court cases in his state had hobbled school education, from teacher recruitment to construction of new schools.

“In my state, teacher recruitment did not happen (for a long time) till June last year. Thousands of cases challenging teacher recruitments were pending in the various courts. We got special permission from the Supreme Court and started recruitment,” he said.

Assam has recruited 44,000 primary school teachers in the past year and a half, he said.

The large number of court cases is slowing down implementation of the Right to Education Act in Assam, Biswa Sarma said.

“But I’m confident that we shall achieve the target of the act by March next year,” he said.

Under the act, every school was expected to have separate toilets for boys and girls, a library, adequate teachers, classrooms, etc, by April this year.