Kolkata, February 12: Nobel Laureate and educationist Amartya Sen today lamented that primary education — which laid the foundation for development in the other Left bastion Kerala — has been sadly neglected in West Bengal.
“We have to admit that it took a long while for primary education to feature in the state government’s priority list,” Sen said at a convention organised by the West Bengal Primary Teachers’ Association (WBPTA), a Union of Primary Teachers’ in West Bengal.
At a separate meeting at Calcutta University’s Alipore campus, he said to a question that agriculture was important, but industry was also essential for the state. He however, observed that on the path to industrialization, one should give the highest priority to the rehabilitation of the displaced.
Regarding the Bengal-Kerala comparison, Sen said the anti-upper caste movement in Kerala, from the very outset, was based on the idea that it was only education which could “fuel” the movement to success. Social indicators like life expectancy and infant mortality depend on the spread of primary education.
Sen also expressed his concern at the high student-teacher ratio in classrooms of the state-run schools. And he dwelt at length on the mid-day meal scheme introduced by the state government, saying, “we still have a long way to go before we make up for the lost time.”
The Nobel laureate slammed the existing system of school education, which encourages private tuitions at the school level. “It’s a shame for our country. Perhaps, India or at most the Indian sub-continent is the only region in the world where the system of private tuitions at school persists. We have to dig deep to understand what prompts students to go for private tuitions,” he said. He pointed out that private tuitions will only lead to “inequality” among the students, broadening the divide between those who can afford it and those who cannot.
“It is also upto the teachers to take into account that a vast majority of the students in state-run schools are first generation learners who do not have any guidance at home as far as academics is concerned,” said Sen.
The ABPTA pledged to abide by a 15-point strategy adopted today. The strategy, to be implemented with the help of Pratichee Trust founded by Sen and UNICEF, will take off in around 100 schools in Kolkata. Its agenda requires teachers to come in at least 15 minutes before school begins, attend the school assembly, prepare in advance for the next day’s class and other issues.