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Overheard: No relaxation on BEd waiver

HRD minister averse to exemption: Source

Smriti Irani at the BJP headquarters in Calcutta on Friday. Picture by Bibhas Lodh

Calcutta, July 4: Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani has apparently made it clear in front of a select group of aspiring schoolteachers that a one-time relaxation to allow candidates without BEd degrees to appear for the school service recruitment examination would not be extended.

A three-year relaxation on not making BEd an essential qualification for writing the test — which the Mamata Banerjee government got from the Centre soon after coming to power — expired on March 31, 2014. The state has since appealed to the Centre for further extension.

According to a source present at the meeting between Smriti and the candidates at the state BJP headquarters in Calcutta, the aspiring teachers explained to her that unlike in some other states, candidates with BEd degrees were not getting priority in teachers’ recruitment in Bengal.

“They also pointed out that National Council for Teachers’ Education norms were being violated in the state by not making BEd an essential qualification. At this point, the minister called up Union school education secretary Rajarshi Bhattacharya to enquire about what’s happening in Bengal,” the source said.

The National Council for Teachers’ Education (NCTE) is the apex body that regulates teachers’ training across the country.

“The secretary clarified that there was an extension till March 31, 2014. After the phone call, she (Smriti) said there would not be any further relaxation,” the source added.

The secretary could not be contacted to verify whether such a conversation did take place.

Although any decision on not extending the relaxation — following a plea from the state government this April — has not been communicated to Nabanna yet, sources present at the meeting said Smriti made it clear that no exception would be made for Bengal any more.

Asked whether the issue of extension of the exemption featured in the discussion that Smriti had with Mamata Banerjee during their meeting at Nabanna, education minister Partha Chatterjee said it did not crop up. Smriti declined to field questions from reporters.

The state government, however, is hoping that the Centre would renew the exemption and that’s why it has not issued advertisements for teacher recruitment this year.

Smriti, however, made her stand clear during the meeting with the candidates, a source said. “She told the candidates that she was aware the number of BEd-trained candidates was much more than the number of vacancies in schools. She said there was no point in extending the exemption,” the source said.

In 2011, when the Mamata government had sought the extension, Bengal did not have enough BEd-qualified candidates as the state had only a handful of institutions to train aspiring teachers.

Although the NCTE guidelines were same even then, Mamata — who was then a UPA partner — managed to secure the relaxation.

Some sources in the education department said the number of candidates appearing for the School Service Commission examination would have shrunk drastically had BEd been made an essential criterion to appear for the test.

“This would have meant loss of earnings for the government. Since the exam started in the late 1990s, on an average 6 lakh to 7 lakh students have been writing the exam by paying a fee of Rs 230 each for general candidates. The earnings would have dropped drastically had BEd been made a mandatory requirement,” the official said.

When the last recruitment test was held in 2012, 7 lakh students took it.

The situation, however, has changed in the past three years as there has been a proliferation of private BEd colleges. At present, the state has over 200 BEd colleges, which offer a one-year programme under NCTE norms.

On being told that there are enough colleges to train aspiring teachers, Smriti apparently wondered about the rationale behind seeking any further extension of the relaxation.

“We told the minister that there are surplus trained candidates and the Right to Education (RTE) Act has made it clear that only trained teachers could be appointed. The minister assured us the relaxation won’t be extended,” said Abanish Karmakar, who met Smriti this afternoon.