The socio cultural milieu of Assam have always emphasised a prime on education. Since the advent of modern education in India, Assam has seen a steady flow of students to cities like Calcutta , Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and so on. The earliest socio cultural doyens of Assamese literature like Laksminath Bezbaruah were among the first who understood the value of better education and moved out to cities like Calcutta seeking higher education for themselves. That the Assamese society places a premium on education can also be gauged from the fact that annual civil services results, Matriculation results and Higher Secondary results are like festivals . Of course the “toppers” are forgotten within a week because public memory is indeed short.
Yet when one seeks to compare students of Assam with the national paradigm, there is a wide gap compared to the counterparts of the rest of the country. For a number of years now there has been a larger debate with regard to the contribution of students who have topped in Matriculation and has apparently failed to give back to the society. This indeed reeks of misdirection towards what the debate should have been and also an unnecessary judgment of the toppers.
The real question that needs to be asked is what is the status of education in Assam, especially at the school level . The first point that comes to the mind is the large number of students that fail every year. This was the news that needs to be dealt equally importantly alongwith the toppers and their stories. However the media and society has failed to do so. If such large number of students fail at the first level of schooling itself, what opportunities remain for them. Can they aim to attain a decent livelihood eventually? Why has the endemic cause of failures happened in the first step itself ? These are the questions that need to be addressed in the first place.
Very often the narrative of the past few years have been one of the consistency of vernacular medium schools in matriculation exams. While acclaiming indeed the noteworthy achievements of the vernacular medium schools, one needs to analyse why frontline English medium schools who previously were accommodated within the SEBA system have now moved to the CBSE curriculum. Will SEBA cease to function as a bilingual board eventually or will it reinvent itself to attract the best minds within the state of Assam. The endemic erosion of SEBA’s credibility is another issue that needs to be addressed with concern.
The third question is narrative built around the results itself. Toppers of public level exams like felicitated and then forgotten. Students too are drawn by these felicitation, but once they realise the system is actually fiercely competitive, most of them give up . In the case of UPSC, for example, while civil services have given consistent results for the past few years , yet students from Assam fail to make it to the top ranks with the regularity that students of other states exhibit. In the civil service itself, the last top rank that was acquired by a student from Assam was Varnali Deka who secured the 16th rank. Since then, while students have cleared the civil services with regularity, a single digit rank still seems elusive. Compare this with the state of Jammu and Kashmir which has produced a Rank 1 and a Rank 2 in a space of five years alone. While the media has played a positive advocacy role in inspiring students to clear these exams, there should be a heightened zeal and motivation among students to also ace these exams by learning from their fellow competitors in other states. And this is not limited to UPSC civil services alone , students from Assam have failed to get top ranks either in IITJEE,AIPMT , law entrance examinations like CLAT, or premier research institutes like IISc, IIAS etc . With the honourable exception of social sciences in premier institutions like Delhi University and JNU, where the number of candidates clearing these exams have increased in the past few years, yet the percentage of top ranks still remain low .
The root cause of this is in the narrative that students in Assam build for themselves . They are hampered by twin faults of lack of awareness as well as lack of self belief. Students from Assam are never aware that every year thousands of students appear for SSC, Railways, Banks PO examinations around the country. Most of the students in Assam are not aware of these institutions or the process to apply for these institutions.
The second problem relates to the question of self belief. Students from Assam are often seen deterring from national level examinations whether for jobs or for entry into premier institutions for as these are long drawn process with tough levels. They fail to realise that the only perquisite to success is hard work alone . Every year one institute in Bihar select 30 students in Bihar and train them for the IITJEE examinations. And every eyar invariably all 30 of these students make it into the IIT’s and this is despite all of them belonging to poor families.
To stand at par at a pan India level, students from Assam whether from academia or other professional field must have a belief in themselves. They must believe that the results are not about one night of media felicitations alone , but far deep and harder realm of hardwork .And it is with this mindsight of “We can” that the Assamese society must direct the next generation .Assam has a history of proactive social organisations like Assam Sahitya Sabha , Bodo Sahitya Sabha among others .Such organisations must act with the twin objective of creating awareness and kickstarting mindset change at the same time . The discourse of education in Assam has to move beyond the traditional realms and acquire newer dimensions ,one that would seek to truly empower the students.