Thursday, February 3, 2011

What ails Mizoram SSA Mission?

In Mizoram, SSA faces serious problems. Since the appointments are highly politicized, the performance of the SSA teachers can't be evaluated objectively under the present set up, writes Paritosh Chakma

DESPITE ALL the hullabaloo, there are surely some serious problems in the functioning of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programme in Mizoram. On February 1, 2011, Mizoram’s Education Minister Lalsawta stated that “unsuitable and unqualified” SSA teachers will be identified and dismissed from March 2011 onwards.

The Education Minister said that the term of the present SSA teachers had already expired in December 2010 and the state government extended their engagement up to February 2011. The government will conduct screening of the existing teachers on the basis of their performance and only suitable candidates will be retained, he added. 

However, when the selection process itself is flawed, we can’t expect the most eligible candidates as teachers under the existing set up.

First, appointments are made on the basis of the recommendations by the Village Education Committee (VEC) headed by the concerned Village Council President (VCP, who belongs to a particular political party). The other members of the VEC comprise of members of Village Council, teachers and representatives from NGOs. In practice, the VCP is all in all, and he has the power to appoint or dismiss any SSA teacher.

Therefore, more often than not, selections are done on the basis of political affiliations of the candidates.

Second, since the appointments are political, the candidates, who are appointed do not care about their duties as long as they enjoy the support of the ruling party leaders, in particular the VCP at village level or the local MLA. As a result, several SSA teachers have sub contracted their jobs to less qualified persons at meager salary.

Third, the SSA teachers are contract employees of the state government and they can be terminated any time without serving any notice or giving any reason for such termination. This clause has been often misused in Mizoram by the ruling party through summary dismissals of SSA teachers whose relatives are supporters of the parties in the opposition.

It is not only the village level political leaders, who misuse their powers and authority. Even the officials at the District Project Coordinator’s office are responsible for appointment/transfer of numerous teachers without the consultation or consent of the concerned Village Education Committee. Several teachers have not even shown their faces in the schools where they had been appointed (not to talk about attending classes regularly) but interestingly, continue to draw their salaries! How does the Office of District Project Coordinator extend the contract of such teachers who do not even perform their duties?

Another interesting feature in Mizoram SSA is that some teachers who have been appointed in village schools have been declared “attached” to the Office of the District Project Coordinator at the district headquarters and work there. In the meantime, the vacancies created by such “attached” teachers have either remained vacant or filled with Education Volunteers, who are not even full fledged teachers.

Since it is the report of the Chairman of the VEC which is the main piece of evidence in favour or against the SSA teachers in question, the existing mechanism to evaluate the SSA teachers is not enough. In such prevailing circumstances, how is the performance of the SSA teachers going to be evaluated objectively? We will never know as the Mizoram SSA Mission works in total secrecy. As pointed out by this writer elsewhere, SSA officials have refused to provide information even under the RTI Act in a number of cases.

The intentions of the Education Minister Lalsawta may be noble, but he must address the real problems at the ground instead of making cosmetic promises. Come March 2011, the people will see whether the Minister indeed walks the talk.

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