-Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)
A teacher recruitment scandal dating back to 2016 continues to haunt the state’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) government, now in its third term in office.
On May 18, a single-judge bench of the Calcutta high court ordered a CBI probe into the process of the West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC) for recruiting teachers for the state’s 92,000 government schools. Justice Gangopadhyay also ordered a CBI investigation into the TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) 2014 conducted by the West Bengal Board of Primary Education (WBBPE) on October 11, 2015. Aggrieved by these orders, the TMC government appealed to a division bench which peremptorily rejected the government’s appeal on June 16.
Significantly, a list of 42,949 selected teachers was a revised merit list published in 2017 for TET 2014. Justice Gangopadhyay observed that even in the revised merit list, 269 of the selected candidates were awarded an additional mark each. WBBPE’s explanation that this additional mark awarded to 269 candidates was because of an error in the question paper, didn’t cut ice with the judge who enquired why the other 2.3 million candidates who wrote the very same exam were not also awarded the additional mark.
Therefore, Justice Gangopadhyay rejected the entire revised merit list of 2017 and ordered “immediate cancellation of the appointment of 269 candidates, stop payment of their salaries, and ensure they are barred from entering the respective schools to which they were appointed henceforth”. In his order, the judge also ordered immediate removal of WBBPE president Manik Bhattacharya and assigned his official responsibilities to the board’s secretary Ratna Chakraborty Bagchi. On June 20, Chakraborty cancelled the appointment of all teachers recruited and appointed under TET 2014.
Academics and teachers’ unions in West Bengal (pop. 91 million) are aghast that the future of aspiring teachers who wrote TET 2014 is uncertain eight years later because of irregularities in recruitment tests and pending court cases, even as there is an aggregate vacancy of 60,000 teachers in government schools which are also woefully deficient in blackboards, classrooms, libraries, laboratories and lavatories. With teacher recruitment at a standstill, the average teacher-pupil ratio in government schools has risen to 1:59 against the 1:35 prescribed by the RTE Act, 2009. As a result, learning outcomes are plunging.
Unsurprisingly, the TMC government’s pathetic inability to sort out the state’s teacher recruitment mess and involvement of party cadres in this scandal have made public protests a daily affair. On June 22, hundreds of TET 2014 candidates who are yet to receive appointment letters, staged a protest by blocking an important crossroad of South Kolkata, demanding immediate recruitment. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s lame reply (June 20): “We have given jobs to nearly 100,000 people in government schools. Mistakes have occurred in 50-100 cases,” has fanned the flames of the 42,949 aspirant teachers who cleared TET 2014 and are awaiting appointment letters.
Meanwhile widespread awareness that teachers are urgently required in the state’s 92,000 government schools with an aggregate enrolment of 23 million children to make good the massive loss of the pandemic era when West Bengal’s public schools were locked down for an unprecedented 91 weeks, is also fuelling public outrage. “Banerjee has prioritised doles and freebies for voters over filling government school teacher vacancies. This has dashed the dreams of thousands of aspiring teachers in a state where there are few employment options. Moreover, the chances of children in government schools ever recovering their learning loss are slipping away,” says Swapan Mondal, a teacher at the Narikeldanga High School, Kolkata, turned political activist.
Right until the 1970s, West Bengal was among the country’s most educationally advanced states. However after the CPM (Communist Party of India-Marxist)-led Left Front government repeatedly won the legislative assembly elections and (mis)-ruled the state for 34 years (1977-2011), faux CPM intellectuals and party cadres massively infiltrated education institutions and totally ruined their traditions and learning outcomes. And all of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s ministers and men haven’t been able to repair the damage.