New Delhi, Sep 6 (IANS): National Award winner Khagendra Nath Chetia Phukan, who has spent 40 years teaching in some of the most remote parts of Assam and its bordering areas, has seen the education sector in the region undergoing major development.
Having emerged from the phase of the 1980s, when schools and colleges were affected due to the frequent "Assam bandhs" called by student unions and the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the state is undergoing a dramatic transformation which is not only ensuring a bright future for the people but also keeping insurgency at bay.
Phukan, one of the receipients of this year's National Teachers Award, said the central government initiatives like the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan have helped in taking education to the far flung areas of the northeastern region, which until a decade ago was suffering due to poor infrastructure and lack of funds.
"At times bandhs, riots and every minor or major uprising hit schools of Assam, and the situation still prevails in some places. There was no dearth of hurdles to harm education and its quality in the state. But it really feels nice to see that the situation is improving fast and the northeastern region has emerged as the best in terms of literacy," Phukan told IANS after being conferred the award along with several others from the state.
According to the 2011 census, the literacy rate in northeast India is 68.5 percent, with female literacy at 61.5 percent. The national average stands at 64.8 percent and 53.7 percent respectively.
Phukan, who now teaches at the Mankata M.E. Senior Secondary School in Assam's Dibrugarh, said: "The most important thing the government schemes have done is providing poor students with uniforms, textbooks and better quality education, which was not there till a couple of years back."
Hage Bibijan, a senior teacher at a government school at Telluliang in Arunachal Pradesh, who was also awarded the National Teachers Award said there are several social welfare groups keen to start schools and help the government in the education sector but they faced resource crunch.
"States like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and other states of the region need special focus as the number of dropouts is high. The government needs to establish avenues where students can engage after completing their studies."
"There are several social groups and organisations that want to work in the education sector in interior areas of the northeast but they are constrained due to scarcity of resources. The state government in collaboration with the centre needs to help them," Bibijan told IANS.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance(NDA) government has allocated Rs.53,706 crore for overall development of the northeast region in 2014-15.
Ranju Dutta, principal of Karanga Girls Higher Secondary school at Jorhat in Assam, also won a National Teacher Award. Dutta told IANS that there is growing realisation among the people, especially children, of the northeast that education is the only way for bettering their situation.
"Every year there has been a constant rise in the number of students enrolling in schools. Due to enhancement in the quality of education students of the region are performing constantly well," she said.
According to University Grants Commission (UGC) data, over five lakh students from eight states of the northeast ventured outside the region last year due to lack of proper higher education facilities.
Dutta, who has taught for 37 years in villages and semi-rural areas of the state, said the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has improved the quality of teachers by imparting proper training.
The geographical and poor social conditions in northeastern states were reasons that earlier kept teachers from taking up teaching jobs in interior areas, she said.
But with proper training and increase in the pay scale, including in primary schools, the situation has become better. Teachers now happily take up teaching assignments even in remote areas," she said.
"It will be appreciated if teachers working in remote parts of the northeast get recognition like me, as mostly the work they do goes unrecognised," she added.