| Chowkidar Columbus D. Sangma takes a class at Kinangaon Middle English School. Telegraph picture |
Kinangaon (Kamrup district), Jan. 10: Around 11am, Columbus D. Sangma rings the bell for the second period at Kinangaon Middle English School. Ten minutes later, the 40-year-old chowkidar (watchman) puts on his teacher’s garb and rushes to Class VIII to teach Garo.
Sangma has been conducting this dual role since 1996, a year after he joined the government school in this remote village, about 70km from Guwahati. “I wanted to be a teacher but got the job of a chowkidar since I studied only till Class X. Since I had studied in a Garo-medium school and there are only two teachers here, I was soon asked to take classes,” Sangma told this correspondent, as he prepared for his second period.
The school, which started in 1963, now has 61 students, including 32 girls. The two teachers — headmaster Mohendra Das and Margaret Rose Marak — cannot alone complete the syllabi of Classes VI to VIII.
“Only a XII-passed person is eligible to teach in an ME school but we have to take Columbus’s help. We have no option since no new teacher has been appointed for years. We require at least six,” said Das.
Students, mostly belonging to Garo farmers from the neighbouring villages of Nagaldonga, Amringkona, Nadiapara, Umkanpara, Belsang, among others, study in the school. But shortage of teachers is forcing many of them to move their children to English-medium schools. “Earlier, we had around 100 students every session on an average,” said Marak.
The scene is no different in the adjacent Kinangaon Lower Primary School. There are only two women teachers, Gita Sangma and Purnima Sangma, to teach 46 children. “We have to take five classes at a time. We literally run from one class to another because no Garo teacher has been appointed for years,” said Gita Sangma, headmistress of the school.
Shortage of teachers in Garo-medium schools in Kamrup district has put headmasters like Das and Gita in a difficult situation for years.
Benedict Areng of Garo National Council, an umbrella organisation of Garos living in Assam, said there are around 70 Garo lower primary schools in Kamrup district, of which 68 have a single teacher, while the rest have two teachers. “There are six Garo Middle English schools in the district but five have just a single teacher each,” said Areng, who accompanied this correspondent to the neighbouring Larubama village.
In neighbouring Goalpara district, there are 156 Garo lower primary schools but most have just one teacher.
The community mostly resides in Garo hills of Meghalaya but the neighbouring Kamrup and Goalpara districts in Assam have a sizeable Garo population.
Mantu Sangma, a farmer in Larubama, brings back his daughter Charnaritha (Class I) and son Silchang (LKG) from school on his bicycle everyday. Sangma had admitted his children to a Garo-medium school. But he later moved them to Carmel School, an English-medium school run by a Christian missionary. “I always wanted my children to study our mother tongue but there was only one teacher in the school where I admitted them first,” said Mantu, taking his children back home.
According to Areng, children of about seven lakh Garos living in Assam are being deprived of proper vernacular education owing to non-appointment of Garo teachers.
“How can we talk about Right to Education if we can’t provide sufficient teachers for the children?” asked the 73-year-old, a retired armyman from Kinangaon.