The government on Monday admitted in the state Assembly that a growing demand for English-medium schools has led to the closure of many state-aided primary schools in Calcutta.
School education minister Kanti Biswas said the trend could be linked to a rise in the number of non-Bengali-speaking students in Calcutta and its neighbourhood. There is an increasing enthusiasm among a large section of Bengali-speaking urban parents, too, to put their wards into English-medium schools. This, the minister said, explains the drop in the number of students in Bengali-medium schools in Calcutta, Howrah and Hooghly.
Biswas was replying to a query from Abdul Mannan (Congress) on the government’s plans to recruit primary and secondary schoolteachers on contract.
Education department sources said 1,500-odd state-aided Bengali-medium primary schools in the state, mostly in Calcutta, Howrah and Hooghly, have wound up in the past few years due to a drop in enrolment. There are more than 52,000 state-aided primary schools in the state.
Biswas dismissed the Opposition’s allegation that the Left Front’s “faulty policy” of abolishing English at the primary level had led to a drop in enrolment in the Bengali-medium schools and, subsequently, to their closure.
“The number of non-Bengali-speaking students has risen over the years. At present, less than 37 per cent of the population in Calcutta speaks Bengali. In such a situation, we cannot accept that enrolment in the Bengali-medium schools is decreasing due to our no-English policy,” he asserted. Biswas pointed out that the number of students has risen considerably in secondary schools.
The minister announced that the buildings housing the closed schools would be turned into government and Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) offices. “We plan to hand over some of the buildings to the CMC so they can use the premises as borough committee offices. Some of the buildings may be used for government offices. We are in negotiations with the CMC,” said Biswas. The minister was replying to leader of the Opposition Pankaj Banerjee, who wanted to know how the government would utilise the buildings.
Earlier, replying to Mannan’s question, the minister said the government had already recruited teachers on contract at the Higher Secondary level. But it had no plans to appoint teachers on contract to the state-aided primary and secondary schools. He said secondary schools were being allowed to recruit teachers on a part-time basis and organise funds to pay their salaries.