Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)
A year after the multi-crore teacher recruitment scam for West Bengal’s 92,748 government schools came to light following the arrests of Partha Chatterjee, former education minister, Kalyanmoy Ganguly, former president of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) and several other government and ruling party bigwigs by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government has announced a slew of teacher recruitment initiatives. Primary, upper primary, secondary as well as higher secondary school teachers are being urgently recruited.
According to notices published by the state government in September and October, the West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC) will conduct a Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) for nearly 74,000 primary schools on December 10, for which online applications were completed on October 8. Last December, TET for primary teachers was held after a gap of five years amid tight security arrangements to fill 11,000 vacancies in state government and aided schools. At that time 6.19 lakh candidates wrote the primary TET, of which 1.50 lakh candidates, including 69,408 female and 81,077 males qualified. The interview process of empanelled candidates has already been completed.
Moreover, following an October 17 hearing by the division bench of the Calcutta high court, WBSSC will start recruiting teachers for upper primary schools between November 6 and December 2. The recruitment for 14,339 teachers will be from the panel of 9,000 selected together with 4,334 wait listed candidates who qualified in the upper primary TET held way back in 2015. The first list of selected candidates was cancelled by Calcutta high court in 2017.
Simultaneously, recruitment of principals and headmasters for government and aided schools, stalled since 2017 following allegations of malpractices, will also start this month (November). Currently 3,000 posts of principals and headmasters are vacant. Additionally, according to an October 21 notice by WBSSC, the board is expected to notify the State Level Selection Test (SLST) for recruiting teachers for 20,000 secondary and higher secondary schools. Decks have reportedly also been cleared to recruit guest teachers on contractual basis for public schools to address the acute shortage of educators (estimated 30 percent, including 3,132 mathematics and 1,795 physics teachers).
This flurry of recruitment activity has been welcomed by parents, children and the community. The last SLST for classes IX-X was held in November 2016; for classes XI-XII on December 4, 2016, while TET for upper primary teachers was last held in 2015. With the teacher recruitment process for upper primary, secondary and higher secondary stalled by court stay orders following allegations of recruitment scams alleging violation of NCTE rules, manipulation of marks, non-publication of merit lists post interview, preference given to untrained candidates, and awarding out-of-turn appointments for illegal consideration, there’s a massive teacher shortage in government and aided schools statewide. According to a report published by the state education department, 7,018 primary schools have been shut down statewide due to teacher shortage.
According to political pundits in Kolkata, sensing that teacher recruitment scams could well prove to be the Achilles heel of the TMC in the general elections scheduled for April-May 2024, chief minister Banerjee has started pulling out all the stops to place public education high on her to-do list. She has rolled out a schema to transfer Rs.10,000 to bank accounts of 9.5 lakh class XII students in 14,000 government schools and 636 madrasas for buying smartphones or tablets, distributed 2.5 million bicycles to classes IX-XII students in December 2021 and supplied dry rations and textbooks to 99.7 percent of school students during the pandemic. She has also introduced 100 days bridge courses for students of all classes to make up for lost learning during the pandemic.
Monitors of West Bengal’s unruly political scene believe that Banerjee’s massive teacher recruitment drive in the final stretch before General Election 2024 is likely to strike a responsive chord in the state’s influential middle class which places a high premium on quality education, as well as in 7.6 million registered unemployed youth. Therefore, they don’t rule out this fiery woman leader — who won 880 out of 928 seats in the panchayat polls held in July — sweeping West Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2024.