Control can be addictive. The Left Front government in West Bengal has always been particularly loath to part with its prerogatives with regard to the schools in the state. This long relationship of patronage and intervention has had its peaks and troughs. Running through this more than two-decades-long history, there have been some sustained themes — the story of English being the longest and the saddest, with private tuition following closely. Another fruitless chapter to this saga of control has begun now with the state assembly clearing the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (Second Amendment) Bill, 2003. This authorizes the government to stipulate a code of conduct for school teachers. Moreover, the government is especially firm about the fact that this code will apply not only to state-funded or aided schools, but also to all private schools which do not take any money from the government.
This is what will outrage most schools, some of which have fought long and hard to keep precisely this sort of governmental intervention at bay. A Supreme Court ruling had once allowed governments to have a larger say in the affairs of minority educational institutions availing themselves of state funding. So adamant were these schools to ward off such meddling that most of them willingly forfeited dearness allowance funding from the government in order to maintain their autonomy, even if this meant raising their fees. Most notable among these schools in Calcutta and its suburbs were those belonging to the Church of North India group. Recently, the Ramakrishna Mission schools had also wrested back their autonomy from the government with regard to the teaching of English at the primary level and to the appointment of new teachers without being tied to the school service commission. These are hard-won freedoms which most of these schools would guard for the sake of administrative efficiency and academic standards — and quite rightly so. Many schools are also choosing to affiliate themselves to the Central and other Delhi-based boards to avoid being associated with the state’s secondary board. The government’s continuing attempts to gain back control over schools which function much better when left to themselves could only lead to a useless waste of time and bureaucratic energy. Ensuring infrastructural support and clearing red-tape is what the government should be most bothered about, and keep its interventions to a minimum when it comes to the process and content of education. A blanket code of conduct is impractical and unnecessary.