The Gorkha Janmukti Vidhyarthi Morcha, the students’ wing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, today threatened to close schools across the hills in support of the demand for regularisation being made by 515 voluntary teachers. Voluntary teachers of 52 high schools and 71 higher secondary schools in the hills, under the aegis of Janmukti Insecure Secondary Teachers’ Organisation (JISTO), have presently started a pen-down demanding regularisation. This has brought to a halt ongoing academic sessions in the schools raising apprehensions that the agitation could disrupt the annual examinations due from November-end.
The students’ wing fears that the protest by the voluntary teachers could hamper the studies of the students including their preparations for the annual exams. “Because of the agitation most schools have not completed their syllabus while the annual exams are just round the corner. This will affect the students and there is also a possibility of them losing a year. We cannot allow this to happen,” said Sandeep Chhetri, the GJVM spokesperson. To pressurise the local administration and the state government, the GJVM also said it could close down schools if the issue was not settled immediately. “We could even call a strike of the schools if the matter is not resolved at the earliest. But for the time being we will wait and watch what actions the state government and the local administration take,” Chhetri maintained.
The voluntary teachers in some cases have been teaching since the past 20 years in return for sums as paltry as Rs1,500 as remuneration. In many schools such teachers outnumber their permanent peers, leading to fear among the headmasters that holding examinations would be difficult. Asoke Newar, the headmaster of Bagrakote Higher Secondary School in Gorubathan, said his school had more voluntary teachers than permanent ones. “We have a student strength of 1,600. There are 19 permanent teachers but voluntary teachers number 27. In Classes XI and XII, we just have a single permanent teacher and three voluntary teachers for Political Science, Economics and Geography. Under such circumstances, if the majority of the teachers do not report to work, it will be difficult to hold the annual examinations,” he said.
Meanwhile, the People’s Forum, a non-political organisation based in Kalimpong, has also extended support to the agitating teachers and has demanded the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration to intervene to diffuse the situation. “The teachers’ demand is justified as they have been providing service for over two decades now. They get paid very less for their services and the future of many is in jeopardy. The teachers’ grievances must be addressed, soon,” said Pravin Gurung, secretary of the forum. Voluntary teachers are appointed by a managing committee of the schools as the School Service Commission (SSC) that was formed separately for the hills has remained defunct since 2003.The so-called voluntary teachers' pay depends on the availability of funds with a school's managing committee.
Roshan Giri, the executive GTA Sabha member in charge of education, said the issue would be taken up with the state government in a bipartite meeting on November 9 in Kolkata. The agitating teachers admitted that their protest would affect the students, but expressed helplessness due to the seriousness of the issue and the matter being of genuine concern.
[Via: EOIC, Pics: Yogen Basnet]