Saturday, 24 September 2011

Arunachal: Dismal state of education

By Tejang Chakma

OVER four decades have elapsed since the Chakmas were settled in Arunachal Pradesh by the Government of India under a definite plan of rehabilitation. However, they remained stateless till date. The lack of citizenship has been the primary reason for their pathetic socio-economic conditions.

The state of education, which is generally seen as the foundation for the development and progress of any society, remained grim in Chakma inhabited areas in the state. This was largely due to state government’s repressive policy against the Chakmas since 1980s in the wake of the anti-foreigner agitation in Assam. In 1994, schools were withdrawn in Chakma areas in Changlang, Lohit and Papumpare districts, where the Chakmas inhabit and Chakma children were denied admission in other schools outside the Chakma areas.

Subsequently, these schools were opened especially with the launch of the Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA), a flagship programme of the Central government for universalisation of elementary education.

The state government can also no longer deprive the Chakma children of elementary education which has become a “fundamental right” with the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009.

Yet, access especially to secondary and higher secondary education continued to be difficult for the Chakma children. 

No secondary schools

There is no denying the fact that most of the Chakma inhabited villages presently have schools following the launch of the Sarva Shiksha Abiyan. But, these schools provide education only up to elementary level. More and more Chakma students are passing out of elementary education every year and consequently pressure on secondary education is increasingly being felt due to lack of secondary schools in the Chakma inhabited areas in all the three districts of Changlang, Lohit and Papumpare. 

The situation is worst in Changlang district where majority of the Chakmas live. Presently, the total population of the Chakmas, including the Hajong community, is about 46,691 in the district according to a Special Survey Report of the state government. The Chakmas inhabit in four Circles namely Bordumsa, Diyun, Kharsang and Miao under Changlang district. However, there is only one secondary school in Diyun circle for the Chakma population of these four  circles. There is no secondary school for the Chakmas in Bordumsa, Kharsang and Miao circles despite having substantial population. According to the 2001 census, the Chakma population is more than 11,000 in two circles of Bordumsa and Miao alone. While secondary schools outside Chakma areas are not accessible to the Chakma students.

In the absence of secondary schools and denial of admission in higher schools outside their areas, the Chakma students from Bordumsa, Kharsang and Miao circles are forced to seek admission at Diyun secondary school every year. As a result, overcrowding remains a recurring problem at Diyun school, thereby seriously affecting the quality of education.

Recently, the Chakma students from outside Diyun circle were denied admission to Diyun secondary school allegedly on the ground of overcrowding and other unfounded reasons. At least 22 Chakma students from Bordumsa circle, who were given admission initially, were asked not to further attend classes during this academic session. Presently their fates hang in balance. 

This problem will continue to be felt unless secondary schools are established in Chakma areas outside Diyun circle. The opening of secondary school in these areas will help Diyun school to maintain its intake capacity, thereby reducing overcrowding. Moreover, the Chakma areas outside Diyun circle deserve secondary schools considering the presence of substantial population and the long distance of Diyun school from their areas. 

Non-implementation of RMSA in Chakma areas

During 2008 - 2009, the Centre launched the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) for the universalisation of secondary education in India. The main aim of the RMSA is to make secondary education of good quality available, accessible and affordable to all young persons in the age group 15-16 years for secondary education and 16-18 years for higher secondary education. The main aim of the RMSA is to make secondary education of good quality available.

Under RMSA, secondary school has to be provided within 5 km of any habitation and 7-10 km for higher secondary schools. In other words, it suggests that the Chakmas outside of Diyun circle can demand higher schools or upgrade of the existing middle schools to secondary level under the RMSA, while the Chakmas of Diyun circle can insist for upgradation of Diyun secondary school to higher secondary level. 

However, it is highly unlikely that the state government will provide higher schools or upgrade the existing schools due to its repressive policy against the Chakmas. Further, the state government will take the advantage of the fact that secondary education is not constitutionally compulsory unlike the elementary education which can be challenged in court.

Lack of higher secondary school and increasing dropout rates

Another issue of concern is the lack of higher secondary school for the Chakmas in the entire Changlang district. The upgradation of the Diyun secondary school to higher secondary level is a long pending demand of the Chakmas. Yet, several pleas of the Chakmas with the authorities have fallen on deaf ears. The government higher secondary school at Innao, located in nonChakma area, is the only higher secondary school in the entire Diyun circle. Although, admission is given to students passing out from Diyun school, only few actually gets admissions. Students who have the financial capacity take admission outside the state such as Assam, Delhi, etc. But, the majority of them, who are poor, have no option but to discontinue their studies. Exact figure on the drop-outs does not exist, but it is estimated that 1/3rd of students, mostly girls, were forced to discontinue education every year.

School drop-outs marry early, ends up as unskilled labourers, domestic servants and few even get involve in antisocial activities. Every year, many of these drop-outs, including the girls, are going outside the state such as Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, etc in search of petty jobs. They work in hostile conditions and remain extremely vulnerable to abuse. 

Pathetic condition of Diyun Secondary School

The Diyun Secondary School, constructed by the Chakmas themselves on a self-help basis, is the only secondary level school meant for a population of over 46,000 Chakmas, including the Hajong community, in Changlang district. In the absence of any secondary school for the Chakmas in the whole Changlang district, this school has to accommodate not only students from Diyun circle but also students passing out elementary education from outside Diyun circle every year. This results in overcrowding and affects the quality of education.

There are two higher schools outside Chakma areas in Diyun circle, a secondary school at Sompoi and a higher secondary school at Innao. But, these schools are not easily accessible to the Chakma students. This is another reason for overcrowding at Diyun school. On an average a teacher has to teach more than 100 students especially in Class 9th and 10th standard. The negative impact on the quality of education in Diyun school can be measured from the poor results of class 10th students during academic session 2010-11. Out of the 132 students appeared in class 10th only 21 students had passed, while the rest were declared Eligible for Improvement of Performance (EIOP). In other words, they have failed.

No doubt, admitting large number of students at the school will affect the quality of education. But as the adage goes, “something is better than nothing.” this school is the only ray of hope for hundreds of poor Chakma students in the absence of higher schools. With creation of additional rooms, the problem of overcrowding can be sorted out to some extent. There is no lack of fund. The Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India has already sanctioned grant for construction of school buildings for Diyun Secondary school under the Multi Sectoral Development Programme (MsDP) recently. The first installment was released in 2010 but the state government is yet to start construction of infrastructure of the school. 

This article is first published in SOJAAK, The Chakma Community Magazine, Issue 2:: September, 2011