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Darjeeling voluntary teachers protest affect students exam

Darjeeling voluntary teachers protest in front of lal kothi
A protest by so-called voluntary teachers in the Darjeeling hills has school heads worried because it would adversely affect students in the exam season.

Since October 29, 515 voluntary teachers have been on a pen-down protest outside Lal Kothi, the GTA headquarters, demanding permanent jobs. Annual exams in schools started this month.

The demand by the teachers is not new, but the timing of the protest, which has coincided with school annual exams 70,000 hill students will appear for, has got them more notice.

The School Service Commission was formed separately for the hills and examinations were held by the commission till 2000. But in 2003, the SSC hills office was closed down by the state government following a demand by Subash Ghisingh's GNLF that Nepali-medium schools should be classified as linguistic minority institutions and their management committees should be allowed to recruit teachers on their own like religious minority schools.

Since then, there has been no state-organised system for teachers' recruitment in the three hill subdivisions - this at a time when lack of employment options across Bengal has pushed many educated students to opt for teaching jobs, leading to fierce competition for a limited number of seats.

In August, over 5 lakh aspirants wrote the SSC test for secondary teachers' posts in the state. The vacancy: around 15,000.

The SSC test is not an annual one, it is held depending on the requirement for teachers.

The GTA wants a separate SSC for the hills, but that may not help the 500-odd secondary and HS voluntary teachers, some of whom have been taking classes for nearly two decades for as little remuneration as Rs 1,500 a month. If the hill SSC is created, there would be separate exams. Most voluntary teachers don't see this as a solution as it would mean having to sit for the exam, which would ignore their contribution towards school teaching for so many years.

A headmaster, who did not wish to be named, said the main reason for taking voluntary teachers was the halt of recruitments through the SSC in the hills. "This is the reason why the managing committees were forced to ask aspirants to work as so-called voluntary teachers as the SSC has been defunct for more than a decade in the hills," the headmaster said.

The so-called voluntary teachers' pay, the headmaster said, depended on the availability of funds with a school's managing committee.

Roshan Giri, the executive GTA Sabha member in charge of education, admitted this was a "huge problem. We will definitely take up this matter during the bipartite meeting with the state government on November 9."

Vivek Newar, the general secretary of the Janmukti Insecure Secondary Teachers' Organisation that is spearheading the protest, said: "Some voluntary teachers have been teaching for over 20 years.... We understand students are facing problems, but we too have our compulsions. Once our issue is settled, we are ready to take overtime classes."

Several school headmasters have said holding exams would be difficult as in several schools the number of voluntary teachers outnumbered the permanent ones.

Ashok Newar, the headmaster of Bagrakote Higher Secondary School in Gorubathan, said: "We have a students' strength of more than 1,600 and while there are 19 permanent teachers, there are 27 voluntary teachers. In Class XI and XII, we only have one permanent teacher and three voluntary teachers for political science, economics and geography. When the majority of teachers are not coming to school, it will be difficult to hold the annual examination."

He said: "According to the board's directives, we have to send the results of the examinations (of Classes X and XII) by November 24, but with the voluntary teachers not even having corrected the answer scripts (in some schools), this too is becoming a problem."

Pradip Kumar Gurung, headmaster of Judhabir Higher Secondary School, said there were "15 regular teachers and 19 volunteer teachers" in his school. "Voluntary teachers teach important subjects such as mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology in Classes XI and XII. It is difficult to hold regular classes and it will also be a major task, holding the annual examinations. We request everyone to solve this issue as early as possible."

There are six junior high schools - till Class VIII - and 52 schools that teach till Class X. There are 71 higher secondary schools also in the Darjeeling hills.(TT)

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