Linguistic and religious minority Garos in Assam had been struggling to protect their language after the bifurcation of Meghalaya in the 1970s. Apurba Thakuria, who is the inspector of schools, has not only helped preserve the language but has also ensured the language gets promoted. On a missionary mode, he set out to transform the education scenario of these Garo-speaking villages. The focus was on Gohalkona village in lower Assam’s Kamrup district.
Thakuria’s success story earned him praise from the state education minister, Ranoj Pegu, in the assembly last week. Pegu is set to visit Gohalkona to felicitate the successful candidates on December 31.
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Fringe villages inhabited by the Garo community, mostly in Kamrup and Goalpara districts of Assam, lack modes of communication and internet to connect them with the rest of the world. During the peak period of Garo and Ulfa insurgency, many villages, along the Assam-Meghalaya border, witnessed violent clashes between extremists and security forces. Even today, higher education continues to elude thousands of youths here.
For many matriculates in Gohalkona, travelling 15 km to the nearest college in Boko is an endless journey because of the hilly terrain. There is no public transport. The Gohalkona lower primary school was established at the initiative of American Baptist missionaries in 1893. Even today, a student has to travel all the way to Boko or Meghalaya to avail senior secondary education.
“Our first task is to ensure that government-run Garo medium schools don’t get closed down because of a lack of Garo teachers. Teaching in the vernacular medium is essential and has been endorsed in the New Education Policy,” Thakuria said.
There are 72 Garo elementary schools in Kamrup district where 115 teachers are appointed. The same is the issue in Goalpara where Garo schools are struggling for survival due to lack of adequate teachers. Many are functional with a single teacher and the quality of education has been heavily compromised. “There is a massive dearth of teachers in Assam who can teach in Garo. Many teachers do not want to go to the Garo inhabited areas in the remote borders,” he added.
“If we fail to produce more TET qualified teachers, there will be a huge crisis in Garo schools once the senior teachers retire,” he said.
Nokrakhi W Marak, a successful candidate from a farmer’s family, said they were given study material for the training in October. “Very few trained teachers were produced from our villages in the past, mainly due to the lack of focused coaching,” she said.
Paresh Baishya, retired principal of Dadara Higher Secondary School, who acted as a key resource person in the training, said the challenge was to produce TET teachers from a small area of Gohalkona and the surrounding 10 fringe villages. “Science and arts teachers must know Garo. It should be their mother tongue. Minor children in many schools cannot communicate in any language other than Garo. Not even Assamese,” he said.