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No 1 Sukharjar Lower Primary School in western Assam's Barpeta is believed to have created a record. It has 400 students to one teacher who – hold it – is often not the one the government had appointed.
Not far away, Chhayshimana LP School has the lone teacher too. But with 152 students, it is no threat to Sukharjar's dubious 'record' unlike at least 50 other schools in the district and minority-dominated areas elsewhere in Assam.
On paper, though, the pupil-teacher ratio in lower primary schools in Assam is 26:1, better than the 30:1 that Right to Education Act (RTE) desires. The figure for upper primary schools in the state is better – 17:1 compared to the RTE standard of 35:1.
"Averages give the impression everything is fine with education in Assam. Truth is, for every school with a record 300-400 times more pupils than teachers there is one with more teachers than students," legislator Sherman Ali Ahmed told HT.
Ahmed represents the All India United Democratic Front from Baghbor assembly constituency in Barpeta district. Most of the schools with lopsided pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) are in Barpeta and Dhubri districts.
"Take the case of Krishnabari LP School in (eastern Assam's) Sivasagar district. It has seven pupils to six teachers. In Guwahati, some schools barely have 130 students against 30-40 teachers," Ahmed said.
Education minister Pradyut Bordoloi agreed the scenario was bleak. "We have identified the high-PTR and low-PTR districts and undertaken a process of rationalisation of teachers to maintain the balance," he said.
He added that the trend of teachers 'outsourcing' their jobs instead of taking classes themselves was adding to the education department's woes. "We have found many teachers using surrogates to conveniently skip duty. They pay their substitutes a part of their salary," he said.
According to education department officials, Teacher Eligibility Test has complicated matters. Teachers selected through this test invariably avoid joining and seek transfer from their places of posting. The department has asked 133 such teachers in Barpeta district to join their original places of posting while action has been initiated against officials who flouted rules to transfer them.